House of Lords
Thursday, 19 March 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.
Armed Forces: Battalion Strength
My Lords, arrangements already exist for Army battalions deploying on operations to be augmented with manpower from other units where there is an operational requirement to do so.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Figures given in Parliamentary Answers show that the Government have allowed the numbers in battalions and other essential units of the Army to fall so low that they can be deployed only by raiding other units to make up numbers—robbing Peter to pay Paul. Does she agree that, if we are to be fully efficient on operations at a time when the Army is so overstretched, we must have all units up to the establishment strength? What plans do the Government have to convert the huge numbers of recruits waiting in the pipeline into trained soldiers?
My Lords, it is true that the figures are as the noble Lord suggests; they were outlined in a Parliamentary Answer in another place. However, it is wrong to suggest that this is creating difficulties that we cannot overcome. Even a fully manned structure might require tailoring when troops are deployed on operations, because they may be doing things that they would not be doing in their normal peacetime configuration. Any deficiencies outlined when there is a deployment are met by the reallocation of services from other battalions. Sometimes, there are missions such as the OMLTs—the operational mentor and liaison teams—which are rather small and create surpluses that can be deployed elsewhere. We are aware of the pressures, but recruitment is good at the moment and we are taking all the steps that we can, both on recruitment and on retention.
My Lords, I have two questions for the noble Baroness. Is it true that there are 3,000 people in the pipeline, waiting to be recruited and, if so, what is the hold-up in getting them into training and then into units for active service? Secondly, does she agree that one great advantage of having larger infantry regiments—some of them quite large, with five battalions—is that, if any battalion about to go on active service is below establishment strength, it can quickly be made up from other battalions of the same regiment, with the same cap badge?
My Lords, on the last point, of course I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, which is not surprising given his experience in these matters; he has far more experience than I have and his words should be listened to very carefully. As for how rapidly we can deploy new recruits, there is always a balance to be struck, whether with personnel or with equipment. We have to ensure that the people and equipment that we send into operations are fully ready for the task that they have. Therefore, it can take longer than some people would think ideal, but it would be wrong to try to hasten that process if it put anybody at risk.
My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what quality of accommodation those returning from Iraq will find when they come back to this country? The recent National Audit Office report found that a third of service personnel’s families were dissatisfied with their accommodation and that it would take two decades to bring all service accommodation up to a certain standard. Would it not make sense to accelerate the improvement programme to help the local construction industries of this country at the present time and to provide appropriate housing for our service personnel when they return?
My Lords, obviously we take housing for service personnel extremely seriously and are concerned about any deficiencies. However, the vast majority—around 90 per cent—of service family accommodation is at grade 1 or grade 2 level, which means that it is more than adequate. The improvements that we have made in recent years have been very welcome. We have upgraded 1,800 properties to the highest standard. We have carried out important improvements to kitchens, bathrooms and central heating boilers in another 4,500 properties. However, it is true that there is a legacy problem. Many of these difficulties date back not just to the period of this Government but to previous Governments over many decades. The agreement on the sale of housing that was reached in 1996-97 by the previous Administration did not help the situation.
My Lords, I am not aware of cash constraints that cause that problem. Any recruit has to be properly screened and has to go through the proper processes. There are vacancies at the moment. It is well known that levels are not up to full targets, although we have been pleased with the increase in recruiting recently. The problem is not just recruitment, though; we have had to take measures on retention, which are showing some signs of success.
My Lords, does the Minister recognise that, when establishing tour intervals, which is an important factor, one usually watches regiments or even battalions to see how often they are deployed for active service? Is she satisfied that when those battalions are augmented from other battalions, sufficient track is kept of the tour intervals of individual soldiers?
My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the need to preserve harmony guidelines. It is true that on occasion some of those are breached, which is something that we work hard to minimise. There are certain pinch points in terms of the skills available and it is only in those circumstances that that particular difficulty is likely to arise. But we are aware of those pressures and we take measures to try to minimise them.
My Lords, the Minister said that there were constraints on training and equipment. I am not sure what the inference of that is. Does it mean that the battalions in the field are short of equipment for the recruits to bring, or can she assure us that all the battalions in the field are both up to strength and fully equipped?
My Lords, I was referring to the fact that there has to be some time before new recruits can be deployed. When we have new equipment, we have to make sure that we have sufficient equipment on which to train people before they can take that equipment with them into operations. We cannot just send it into the operational field if people there have not had that previous training.
Climate Change: Carbon Dioxide Emissions
My Lords, according to the European Environment Agency, the per capita carbon dioxide emissions of the UK, France and Germany in 2006 were as follows: 9.19 tonnes in the UK; 6.42 tonnes in France; and 10.68 tonnes in Germany.
My Lords, there are always a number of different factors, but there is no doubt that the French reliance on nuclear contributes to their lower emissions to a large extent. My understanding is that 78 per cent of France’s electricity comes from nuclear generation.
My Lords, surely the key issue is not so much comparing levels per head but what efforts countries have made to reduce their emissions. Since this Government came to power 10 years ago, they have reduced their emissions by a pathetic 1.6 per cent. What are the Government going to tell us that they are going to do next?
My Lords, the Government have paid a great deal of attention to our efforts to reduce emissions. For instance, it is predicted that CO2 emissions will have fallen by 15 per cent between 1990 and 2010. A number of policies have been put in place to encourage a reduction in emissions. We have signed up to hugely challenging international targets. This House and the other place have passed legislation pledging this country to an 80 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. We have a record to be proud of.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that 25 per cent of our emissions come from heating, both domestic and commercial? Is he further aware that in Sweden, which in spite of its colder climate manages to have roughly half of the per capita emissions of the UK, a good deal of the older housing stock is now fitted with ground source central heating? Can he tell us why so little has been heard in this country of that technology and why we are not making more use of it?
My Lords, we have recently issued a number of papers on renewable heat, looking at how energy programmes can be developed more widely in domestic housing. If the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, were here, he would point to the potential of combined heat and power. With local authority leadership, we can see a great extension of district heating systems, which also have a great role to play here.
My Lords, can the Minister say whether the carbon footprint of a four-bedroom family house would increase or decrease if daylight saving were to be in operation during the winter months as it is on the continent? Will he quantify his reply with some reliable statistics from the Energy Saving Trust, the Carbon Trust or some other responsible agency, and make them available on the Library Table for the benefit of all noble Lords who have an interest in this important subject?
My Lords, that question warrants serious attention. I assure the noble Lord that my department and others take those matters into consideration. However, I doubt whether the answer to climate change can be completely solved by daylight saving time.
My Lords, given that the Minister’s department has estimated in its latest impact assessment the annual cost of the Climate Change Act at £15 billion to £18 billion for every year between now and 2050, and not even for any conjectural benefit unless the rest of the world follows suit, will he give an undertaking that if there is no such global agreement at the Copenhagen conference in December, Her Majesty’s Government will move to have that costly Act repealed?
No, my Lords. We will not do that. That Act is of profound importance for this country, and in terms of encouraging other countries to do the same. We are confident that, however challenging agreement in Copenhagen is, we can come out of it with an agreement that will lead to the appropriate mitigation of climate change. Clearly, we have to accept that some of the measures that must be taken will cost money to the economy. Equally, however, a low-carbon economy can bring immeasurable benefit to this country in terms of investment, jobs and growth.
My Lords, how can the noble Lord reconcile these great promises with the fact that Britain is in breach of the European obligations on air pollution, and that central London is considered one of the worst places in that regard, certainly in Europe?
My Lords, that is not entirely so. The noble Baroness will know that we are having to apply for a derogation as parts of London do not meet the required standard. She might also have pointed out that a considerable improvement in overall air quality standards has been made in this country. We are not complacent; we have to do better and we are working with the mayor on these matters. However, the noble Baroness has not given an entirely accurate picture of the situation.
My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that the programme for nuclear-fired power stations is fully on track, that we will be getting nuclear generated electricity on stream as speedily as possible, and that all the necessary steps have been taken to ensure that we retain scientists in this country who can operate those nuclear power stations?
Yes, my Lords. EDF, which recently took over British Energy, has proposed four new reactors, with the first to come on stream in 2017-18. Other companies and joint ventures are showing interest in developing nuclear generation. My noble friend is right: this is a huge opportunity for this country once again to look to nuclear and take advantage of all that it offers. There will be many opportunities for skilled people to go into the sector, and we are working very hard to make sure that happens.
Local Government: Business Rates
My Lords, business rates are adjusted each year to take account of RPI inflation in the previous September. This was established by the introduction of national business rates in 1990. If RPI inflation is lower in 2009, this will be reflected in next year’s bills.
My Lords, I view that Answer with some incredulity. Does the Minister not recognise that small businesses and retailers are facing falling sales? How on earth are they going to find the money to pay an extra 5 per cent on their rates bill? Does she not understand that there are well over 100,000 such small businesses and that, unless this rate is frozen, the net result will be yet more unemployment? Yesterday, the 2 million barrier was reached. Do we really want to see more unemployment? Will the noble Baroness make a plea to the Chancellor to freeze the business rate for just the current year?
My Lords, I certainly understand the gravity of the situation that the noble Lord has addressed. On his first point, to freeze business rates at the 2008-09 multiplier would cost about £1 billion, but it would also raise issues of unfairness. The noble Lord talked specifically about small businesses. What he proposes would be untargeted and would benefit the larger, property-intensive industries. The 400,000 businesses that receive the 50 per cent small business rate relief get, on average, about £60. In 2005, we introduced the small business rate relief, whereby businesses with a rateable value of less than £5,000 pay 50 per cent of their rates. That is a huge help to those 400,000 small businesses. I am sure that the Chancellor is aware of the lobby addressing business rates issues.
My Lords, do the Government not recognise that we have just had the biggest increase in unemployment in any month since 1971 and that businesses out there are bleeding to death? Surely we need a co-ordinated strategy not only to freeze the business rate but to reverse the Government’s plans to levy VAT next month on the salaries of agency workers and their proposals to increase national insurance costs, all of which is making it more expensive to employ people, who are therefore being fired.
My Lords, this Government do not need to take lessons about the burdens of unemployment. We are deeply concerned about unemployment. We are facing an unprecedented economic situation. In the Pre-Budget Report, the Chancellor announced a massive programme of help, not least £20 billion in working capital to help businesses to access credit, which will help exactly the sort of businesses with which the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, is concerned: it will help with liquidity and credit and it will keep people in jobs. We have also put £100 million towards debt advice and free business health checks, which is a significant and helpful package to meet an unprecedented situation. All that will be real help for businesses.
My Lords, will my noble friend ignore the suggestion made by the noble Lords, Lord Naseby and Lord Forsyth, unless they are suggesting that the difference should be made up by the Exchequer and increased taxation? If that is the alternative that they are suggesting, it seems to me that it would be better if she ignored both of them.
My Lords, resisting the temptation to ask two of the three previous questioners whether they did not anticipate this situation when the arrangement was introduced in 1990, may I ask the Minister what she can say to local authorities that hear so much from those who are having to give up shop leases because of the level of rates? The vitality of shopping centres suffers very much in this situation.
My Lords, the best thing that I can say to local authorities that are concerned, as we all are, about the loss of small shops—about 380,000 small shops fall into the category of below £15,000 rateable value—is that the package that was introduced in the Pre-Budget Report has raised the rateable value for exemptions on empty property rates from £2,200 to £15,000 and we want to make sure that small shops and offices know about that and are claiming that relief. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for pointing out that these changes were introduced in 1990.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for referring to the small business rate relief, but is she aware that in the north-west, the south-east, the Midlands and even in London fewer than 50 per cent of small businesses that are entitled actually claim that relief? In some cases, it is 26 per cent. At a time when there is tremendous pressure on small businesses, does she accept that the Government should not be placing additional bureaucratic burdens on businesses and forcing them to claim? Will she therefore take our advice and the advice of the House as set out in the vote last night and introduce automatic small business rate relief, as is the case in Wales?
My Lords, far from imposing additional burdens, we are making it easier for small businesses to apply for relief. Indeed, since April 2007, instead of having to apply for relief each year, small businesses can make applications that cover more than one year. More recent changes mean that they can apply for relief as soon as the property is there, rather than having to wait for the next financial year. I think that the noble Baroness is talking about the Private Member’s Bill introduced by Peter Luff in another place. We supported the Bill in principle, but the timing is difficult. Automation might well be a help, but it brings implications and impacts that we need to understand and we would need to put aside a raft of other things that we would do to help small businesses.
My Lords, the Government’s support policies are such that no person who has sought protection need be destitute while they have a valid reason to be here. Accommodation and subsistence are available to avoid destitution until an asylum seeker has had their claim fully considered, including appeals. Beyond that stage, there is support to avoid destitution for families, vulnerable people and those with a genuine barrier to going home immediately.
My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that this report demonstrates that there are in fact tens of thousands of people, largely those who are classed as legacy cases, who are in this inhumane position of being destitute as a result either of their claims not being considered or being put on the shelf for many years, because no one quite knows how to deal with the huge backlog that accumulated under the previous system? In these circumstances could the Government not get on with the consultation that they have signalled to all the refugee agencies about supporting failed asylum seekers and legacy cases? Meanwhile, would they consider extending Section 95 support to families who are in this desperate position?
My Lords, first I should say that we do not actually recognise this 500,000 figure referred to by Pafras, which is quite a small group which we have not engaged with yet. In fact, it would have been very useful if it had engaged with us and maybe talked with us, as we do with many other organisations already, before this report came out. I imagine that the 500,000 figure relates, as the noble Lord mentioned, to the figure of about 450,000 that the then Home Secretary in 2006 referred to as a backlog. It was wrong that that backlog built up, we have put huge effort into addressing it, more than 155,000 of those people have been dealt with, there are case officers dealing with each block, and we are clearing the backlog at a rate of 10,000 a month and really addressing that area.
As I have said, our policies are absolutely such that no person who has sought protection need be destitute. We are engaged in dialogue, we need to do that, but we are quite clear that we must maintain a distinction between people who are seeking asylum and those who are coming here for economic reasons. We believe that balanced migration is absolutely crucial for this country. Immigrants have brought huge value to it, but we cannot just allow economic migrants to come here on any scale that they would like to.
My Lords, how does the Minister respond to the withering criticism in the 10th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights? It stated:
“We have been persuaded by the evidence that the Government has indeed been practising a deliberate policy of destitution of this highly vulnerable group”,
and concluded that:
“The system of asylum seeker support is a confusing mess”.
Would he not do well to listen to the constructive suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that we should have a more humane, more efficient, less expensive way of approaching this problem by leaving asylum seekers on Section 95 support, which is about 70 per cent of income support, until they are removed or integrated into society?
My Lords, we are in dialogue with a number of people. We need to continue that. We plan to introduce proposals to reform asylum support under the draft simplification Bill, and a consultation document will be going out shortly. However, when a decision has been made that a person does not require international protection and there is no remaining right of appeal or obstacle to their return, we expect unsuccessful asylum seekers to return voluntarily to their country of origin. Indeed, we are very generous in the package that we give them to assist them to do that. We work with the International Organization for Migration, we pay for asylum seekers’ flights back and we give them a package of up to £4,000 to enable them to resettle and to start their lives again in that country. I think that as a nation we are actually amazingly generous in that way, and we have to be very careful; this is a wonderful country and I should think that there are probably millions of people around the world who for economic reasons would rather live here—and we have to have some sort of control on this.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that a large number of children are separated from their families as part of the immigration process? A lot of these children will be thrust into destitution as a result of the Border Agency’s decision to withdraw funding. Will the Minister look again at the decision and enable organisations such as the Refugee Council to continue to support these children?
My Lords, I am not aware of the Border Agency separating children. I cannot imagine that that is done specifically by the Border Agency, because we are very clear in our responsibilities towards children; but I certainly will look into that and come back to the noble Lord with an answer.
My Lords, does the Minister share the concern of many of us for the psychological health of destitute asylum seekers and the views of the Royal College of Psychiatrists that the health of asylum seekers worsens on contact with the UK asylum system? What does he propose to do about it?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an important point. From my contact with the UK Border Agency, I can say that we have a group of very dedicated people who are trying their best to look after the cases with which they deal. Post the new asylum model in April 2007, a person is allocated to every single one of them and they do their best to look after them. I am aware of all the pressures but I go back to what I said: we have to have a proper way of managing this situation and I think that this is a sensible way of doing so. I have said before on the Floor of the House that each individual case is a real and personal tragedy, and it is. Clearly these people do not want to go back to where they came from, but a large number of them came here as economic migrants and we cannot afford to allow this country to be open to all those who would like to come here as economic migrants.
My Lords, as it was a previous Home Secretary of this Government, David Blunkett, who managed to get the French Government to close the Sangatte centre at Calais because of the number of asylum seekers trying to get into this country—many of whom did, and they contribute to the number already mentioned—can the Minister tell us why the Government are now about to co-operate in the reprovision of a similar centre or centres?
My Lords, I am not aware of the full detail of that, so perhaps I may get back to the noble Baroness in writing. When I was in Calais, I was very aware of the huge number of people who want to get into this country. That goes back to my previous point: this is a wonderful country, so no wonder they all want to get over here. There were many hundreds of them by the fences and so on whom we had to stop getting in and we have been very successful in ensuring that they do not cross the Channel. They are in France or elsewhere in Europe and they should stay there if that is where they have got to and where they want to be, but somehow they seem to want to come over here.
My Lords, I know that the noble Lord is trying to get in, but I am sorry: we have hit 30 minutes.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
Systematics and Taxonomy (S&T Reports)
Motion to refer to Grand Committee
That the reports of the Science and Technology Committee on Systematics and Taxonomy: Follow-up (5th Report, Session 2007–08, HL Paper 162) and Systematics and Taxonomy Follow-up: Government Response (First Report, HL Paper 58) be referred to a Grand Committee.
European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2009
Local Government (Structural Changes) (Miscellaneous Amendments and Other Provision) Order 2009
Cornwall (Electoral Arrangements and Consequential Amendments) Order 2009
Motions to refer to Grand Committee
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Housing) Order 2009
Order of Commitment Discharged
Care Services: Older Adults and Disabled People
My Lords, in moving this Motion, I am reminded of a conversation that I once had with the late Enoch Powell, who explained that he never made an important point during the first two or three minutes of his speech so that those who were rushing in to hear him would get its full effect. When I pointed out that it might be the reverse in my case, with people rushing out—we see the proof of it now—he replied, with impeccable logic, “The principle remains the same”. None the less, I feel constrained to move swiftly to this very important subject.
The statistics are quite frightening. We now have about 11 million people of pensionable age, and that figure is likely to rise considerably in the next 20 years, with those over the age of 80 becoming even more prominent. We have about 2 million blind or partially sighted people to care for. Some 7,000 people—I mean 700,000; would that it were 7,000—are suffering from various forms of dementia. Again, we are told that in the absence of any medical cure, that number may well rise to 1 million within the next 20 years.
The amount spent is very great. On present arrangements, it is about £13 million, but that of course leaves aside payments made through the benefits system and the incalculable amount provided by carers, described formally as the “informal carers”, which means in practice that they are paid nothing for the work that they do. I would be interested if the Minister could give an indication of the monetary effect if all the informal carers suddenly disappeared. I think that it would be a frightening figure. All is not well in the system as it stands, caused partly by what I call a crucial and essential fault line in it—the division between health and social care and the payment of benefits. We are always being told that the NHS is free at the point of delivery while social care, delivered by the local authorities through their social services departments, is means tested. So the system is complex and unfair, and people do not know where they are with it. The most notorious effect is on those who have to go into a care home. It is a traumatic experience on its own, and one of the most crucial and terrible decisions someone has to make. It is made infinitely worse if they know that the value of their house has to be taken into account in deciding what level of care they receive.
It is also extraordinary that many of the people now entering care homes are suffering from Alzheimer’s or similar conditions which I understand—the medics will correct me if I am wrong—is a medical condition and a fault in the brain. Patients become confused, are liable to wander, suffer memory loss, and it then becomes social care for which they then have to pay. What is more, the regulations are not easy for people going into such care to understand. In the course of my researches I found a very interesting paper prepared by the House of Commons Library for MPs with constituents with these problems. It explained that the system and rules were complex and lengthy, and that it could give only a brief guide. That brief guide consists of 17 pages of close print. It is no wonder that people do not understand what it is.
Let us look at the eligibility criteria, which vary from local authority to local authority. Although some attempts have been made to standardise them, they can still be difficult for people, especially if they move from one local authority to another. We had a terrible example of that during the debate on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, last week. Someone moved to another authority and not only did they not receive the same package, they received no package at all until it had been worked out anew what it should be. With the monetary problems that all councils now face, it is tempting to tighten up the criteria. If someone is no longer eligible, the authority can save money. We have evidence that this is happening, and it is effectively rationing by the back door, so all is not well.
We expected the Government by this time to give some clear guidance on the way forward for the system of care for older people and those with long-term disadvantages. They seemed to start brightly enough with the new Prime Minister saying that it was wrong for people to have to sell their homes to pay for care, and setting up a royal commission which reported some 10 years ago, but very little has happened since. There has been a bit of tinkering here and there and we were promised a Green Paper in spring 2009. Spring has arrived, so where is the Green Paper? Maybe the Minister can tell us when we may expect it. But, let us face it, even if she were to announce its contents this afternoon, a Green Paper is by its nature a discussion document, and one can expect some months of discussion before a legislative programme is put forward. However, as we are nearly at the end of this Parliament—it cannot go more than about 14 months at the most—in practice we will see nothing by way of a new deal this side of the general election.
In the absence of clear guidance from the Government, various organisations have put forward their own schemes, notably the King’s Fund, in the shape of the Wanless report which came out with some very interesting proposals, particularly on the financing of care. It very sensibly said that one cannot expect the state to do everything, but that we need a clear division of responsibility so that everyone knows where they stand. It put forward about four options, one of which Sir Derek Wanless particularly liked and called co-payments. I prefer another one, which he called limited liability, which is very similar to an option put forward by the Conservative Party, whereby the person concerned is means-tested for the first two, or perhaps three, years, and thereafter the state picks up the tab, so at least one knows that there is an end in sight in what can otherwise be a very alarming situation for the person concerned.
We need to look far more carefully at empowering people to help with their own way of caring. In the past, a person has been on the receiving end rather than being a partner. It is part of the “Does he take sugar?” syndrome. Noble Lords may remember the Radio 4 programme of that name about the needs of disabled people and the tendency for people to ask, “Does he take sugar?” when the person is sitting there and can quite well say, “Yes, I do,” or “No, I don’t”. That is something we need to build firmly into any new system. That is why I favour the idea of direct payments where, instead of the social services department deciding what should be done, the person or, more likely, the informal carer, will be given the possibility of deciding exactly what form the care should take. However, there are pitfalls, and where it has been tried out, it is plain that people need to be assisted with the administrative side. It is no good expecting them to take on responsibilities for payroll, national insurance and all that goes with them. It seems to work well where there is a third party to whom people can turn to carry that out for them. That is something I would like to see universally adopted.
Even more radical—but it comes up against my fault line, as I have described it— is the idea of bringing together all the various streams of funding into one package so that there is even greater freedom. However, that cannot happen while we have this divided responsibility. Local authorities which have tried to work this have seen that there is an absolute bar on carrying it out properly.
What of the carers who play such a crucial role? I feel very sorry for some of them, for many of them in fact, because they have often given up their own careers or have made them much less successful than they otherwise would have been. They have been tied night and day, and they have constant worries about what might happen if they are not able to carry out those responsibilities. Some of them must feel like an old banger of a car made to work day after day, doing unending mileage with minimal maintenance and certainly no servicing, until they end up as a virtual wreck. Before we do anything else, we need to look to helping carers. I believe that one of the things that would most help them would be respite care universally provided if they want it. It is very much easier to go on if you know that you can stop for a while. The other point is that unexpected emergencies will sometimes occur and put the carer in a very difficult position. Carers would like to know that there is an emergency aid post, as it were, to which they could go if unexpected circumstances make it impossible for them to care. Those two items alone would do much to improve the lot of those on whom we rely tremendously.
One further point comes from the idea of people being partners in their own care. We need to go beyond the minimal package to make sure that people can eat, dress and all the rest of it; we need to make sure that they can live fuller, more interesting lives. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, will remember that when we were considering the Mental Capacity Bill in Joint Committee, one of the most moving sights was that of people with a learning disability coming to give evidence before us themselves—not people speaking on behalf of them, but them speaking for themselves. One of the points that they made was how much simple things such as choosing their own breakfast or wearing their own clothes meant to them. I give that as a simple illustration, but it can be extended way beyond that to people with all kinds of disability. For example, people who move into a care home may miss terribly the pet which they have had for years. We could do far more in care homes if we allowed pets where people wanted them. That is a simple thing, it need not cost a great deal, but it would make all the difference in the world to the quality of lives.
Recently, I went to a dance performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall—other noble Lords may also have attended—to watch the Candoco Dance Company, which mixes disabled and able-bodied dancers in one troupe. It was an amazing performance and it was very difficult to tell the difference between those with disabilities and those without until it was made clear to us. Who would have dreamed of that happening years ago? That is an indication of what could be done. Years ago, I remember my mother, who was a very keen bowler of county standard, being delighted to help with bowls matches for those who were blind or very partially sighted. I never quite knew how that was managed, but I know from what she told me that it gave great pleasure all round. We need to be far more imaginative than we have been hitherto. I pay tribute to those organisations which provide activities for people. I think in particular of the place where I was an MP, in Plymouth, where Plymouth Age Concern had done a magnificent job in making all manner of provisions for their people and had immensely improved their lifestyles and happiness—and probably their health as well.
There is a great deal to be done. I can only touch the surface of it in this opening speech, but I look forward to the contributions which will be made hereafter in the debate. If we wanted a single example of the contribution that older and disabled people can make, we need look no further than this House itself, where the average age is 69. I rest my case.
My Lords, first, I should declare a couple of interests as president of SOLLA, the Society of Later Life Advisors, and as a member of the editorial panel of the study into decumulation—sorry about that word—being carried out by AIFA, the Association of Independent Financial Advisers.
This debate, so admirably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, is timed just as we celebrate—I suppose that that is the right word—the 10th anniversary of the royal commission on long-term care of the elderly chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, to which the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and I signed what was in effect a minority report. Pretty well everyone who commentates on this field believes that we need to move on from that royal commission, which palpably did not lead to the introduction of a permanent solution to the problem. By all means let us move on, but there is one thing which it is not possible to move on from. That is the dilemma that in the end prompted the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, and me to write our minority report: there is a limit to the amount of money that government—society—are willing to devote to the care of elderly people. Within that limit, we face and always will face a choice. We can spend money on paying for services which, at the moment, better off people have to pay for themselves, or we can spend that money on better services, more care, more help for carers, smarter housing for people living in their own homes and better care homes—all are services that people need. I am afraid that in the real world we cannot do both. In Scotland—the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, may talk about this—they have tried to defy this logic by introducing free care. The consequence, besides runaway costs, has been the severe rationing of services.
South of the border, we await the Green Paper—my God, we may have climate change but spring gets later and later in Whitehall. I meant to say that as we await the spring White Paper, the situation is not much better. Ministers, led by the Prime Minister, have canvassed radical reform of the care system for all the good reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. Charities for the elderly are demanding that more be done to help with the costs of long-term care. I give an example. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which has done some very useful work in this field, puts forward four possibilities for a partial reform: equity release, higher capital limits for care home fees, higher personal allowances for care home residents—which of course I particularly support—and free personal care for people needing nursing care. The foundation says that even in the present climate, these provisions can be afforded. Well, they cost £800 million, so it obviously has a different view of what the present climate is like than I do.
The landscape of “realityland” is very different. The last public expenditure plans provided for an increase in spending in this field for elderly people of just 1 per cent a year on social care. That 1 per cent is dwarfed by the costs implicit in the ageing of the population. Local authorities, as CSCI among others has pointed out, are having to cut home care for all but the most severely disabled older people. This actually means that the less severely disabled will deteriorate and have to go into homes rather than be cared for at home, all in the interests of short-term economy—that is a disaster—and that 1 per cent was before the credit crunch. Now, thanks to the crunch, the Government are borrowing billions to bail out banks, and the interest on those billions will have to be paid when the recession is over.
It we turn from the social pages of the newspapers to the economic pages, we see a complete consensus that public spending is going to be subject to an eye-watering squeeze. No one wants to cut health or education, but in these circumstances and in my judgment, the chance of the Government funding a major new programme of spending on social care is not high. We must use the public money we have to better effect—that is pretty obvious—but in this bleak landscape, many of the hopes voiced by the noble Baroness and which will be voiced by others in the debate are only hopes.
I have one other positive proposal. There will not be a lot more public money. It follows, therefore, that if we are to make headway, we must look at the potential contribution from the private sector, something that has been almost entirely neglected. One example is the role of equity release. Despite the recent weakness in house prices, most people retain substantial equity in their homes. This is particularly true of elderly people who often bought their homes years ago when prices were low. Equity release enables them to access this asset to pay for care. Some very good work is being done in this field by the Safe Home Income Plans organisation, which will be published shortly. It is a way in which people can pay for care of all kinds, whether it is care at home or care in care homes.
Another is the development of private insurance for care costs. This has been terribly in the doldrums for reasons that I do not have time to go into, but backed by Ministers and if certain tax problems were sorted out, it could play a real role in taking from people the worry of how they are going to pay for their care if they need it. This is for better off people, it is true, but it is they who have to pay under the present system.
Wearing my SOLLA hat, we are all used to councils advising people what to do, but neither they, nor social workers, have a monopoly of wisdom. SOLLA is designed to increase the skills of independent financial advisers who choose to work with the elderly, get to know what they really need and give them advice. Often, that is what they need most because it is such a bewildering landscape and good advice is priceless.
Private provision of this kind is not a substitute for public provision, even though I fear that public provision will become more of a safety net. The SOLLA report said as much. It said that we have to plan for public expenditure on the basis that it will be a safety net and not a duty of local authorities. It will not be a substitute, but it can be a useful supplement, particularly for the better off who should pay for their care from their own resources and not from the limited resources of the state and the taxpayer.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, on the eloquent way in which she introduced this important debate. This issue will get more acute as the population ages. As the noble Baroness said, not only will the population age, but more and more long-term disabled people will want to live as independently as possible, which was the subject of the debate on Friday. I will not repeat what I said then, nor will I ask the Minister when the Green Paper will be published, although I was going to. This is a difficult climate in which to try radically to overhaul the social care system, but that should not prevent the Government from doing more than tinkering around the edges. However, there will be many consequences of the downturn, not least for local government. I believe that my noble friend Lady Barker will explore some of those matters further in her debate next week.
Today, I shall draw on the Hampshire commission’s report into personalisation and the future of social care, Getting Personal: A Fair Deal for Better Care and Support, which brought together not just local politicians across all parties but experts from all over the country with a social services background to look at the future of adult social care. The commission reported last November. Its recommendations are well worth studying and range from action that can be taken locally to that which needs legislation. An example of the latter is that the commission, in common with many Members of your Lordships’ House, believes that the carer’s allowance should continue to be paid to those aged over 65 in receipt of the state pension. That is not allowed at the moment because of the overlapping benefits rule.
The Hampshire commission’s first recommendation is the universal offer, which would have to be made by the Government nationally. It would include access to information, advice and supported self-assessment for all, regardless of their level of need or their financial situation. Those with more intense and urgent care needs would have a right to brokerage to support planning and arranging care, regardless of means. Furthermore, the Government would have a duty to promote and publicise the scheme so that everyone would be aware of their entitlements. That is a sensible proposal and means that no one would be given short shrift just because they had not been assessed as eligible for social care.
People who need care—usually older adults—told the commission that they felt “lost and bewildered” when trying to get health and social care. They felt unsupported in trying to access information, even when they were eligible for services, while those who were ineligible often got no information of any kind. A carer’s story reported in the Hampshire commission’s report is typical. She said:
“My mother was in hospital after a stroke. The consultant advised that she would not be able to walk unaided, feed, dress or wash herself again and that we should find a nursing home for her. It was suggested that we should talk to the hospital-based social services team. We did, and on hearing that she would be self-funding, the shutters came down, and the help and information offered was zero”.
That attitude simply will not do.
Some respondents to the survey were distressed that social services were not interested in giving any advice when they asked for just a little help, such as that which used to be given by a home help, even to elderly people who lived alone and had recently been discharged from hospital. Unless these people cannot wash and feed themselves, no one seems interested in how they are going to manage, yet having someone looking in to see if a person is all right can make all the difference to their lives. It is not always possible for elderly people to ask family members or neighbours to keep an eye on them. Many have no family left and, if they are housebound, they are increasingly out of touch with their neighbours, particularly if they live in urban areas.
The second recommendation of the Hampshire commission’s report is another sensible proposal: that urgent social care should be free for up to eight weeks for all those at risk of admission to hospital or who are being discharged from hospital, where there is likely to be joint care with health. The report states:
“The fact that health is free at the point of delivery and social care is means tested is a persistent barrier to joined-up services and can be particularly hard for people to understand at points of crisis”.
This finding chimes with that of Age Concern and Help the Aged when they state:
“Most people also hold incorrect assumptions about entitlements to social care, thinking that care and support is free at the point of need, like the NHS”.
The Wanless report of 2006 makes this point strongly:
“It often comes as an unwelcome surprise to older people to discover that social care is means-tested and they are expected to rely on their own savings and income until their assets have fallen to the threshold set for state-funded care. It is a common complaint that the existing system penalises those who have saved for their old age”.
The commission strongly supported the principle of personalisation of social care, saying that there was now evidence that the poor take-up among older people in Hampshire was beginning to change and that outcomes were improving. It said that the current system through which people obtain social care was,
“opaque, localised and hard for people to understand”.
The report demonstrates that self-directed support in Hampshire can be highly successful in making life better for older, frail people and those with complex and high-level needs when they are given the right amount of time to make decisions, the right support and real freedom of choice.
There are many more proposals in the Hampshire commission’s report but I will mention just one more, which I think is vital: the importance of training more people in the caring profession. The report makes the point that the current social care workforce is ageing and that there is a need to attract more young people into care work, including those for whom it will be a stage in their career rather than a career-long choice. With the growth of personal budgets in health and social care, a workforce with wider skills than ever will be required to fulfil all the different roles that will be required, including personal assistants and those able to offer advocacy, brokerage and support planning.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, for initiating this debate and for so ably setting the scene on a pertinent subject at the moment given the increase in the numbers of older people. Most elderly and disabled people wish to maintain their independence and dignity and it is important that everything possible is done to ensure that this is made possible by engaging, as we have already heard, whatever agencies are necessary, whether that is for care at home, residential care or hospital care.
It saddens me as a retired practising nurse that the care of older people is having to call for remedial action in order to ensure that basic needs are met. Only this week, the regulating body for nurses and midwives, the NMC, has issued guidelines for the care of older people. The document highlights six key points of guidance that reiterate the requirements of basic care. The document was written by a nurse, who was so horrified at the treatment her father received before dying that she has, as a result, taken up the challenge and developed highly innovative ways of treating older people. She was commended at the recent nurses’ national award ceremony. This guidance is designed to demonstrate best practice for all nurses working in hospitals and the community.
Much work has been done to improve the care of older people but more remains to be done. Five years ago, after a flourish of bad publicity on the care of older people, my noble friend Lady Cox and I, both retired from practice, thought we should find out whether there was any truth in these dreadful reports. This we did by bringing together a small group of senior nurses representing management, teaching, research and practice. After two meetings we agreed as a group that there was evidence supporting these reports and that we should try to do something about the situation.
Two members of that small group were members of the Burdett Trust for Nursing who persuaded the trust to commission a piece of work, resulting in the publication in 2006 of a report entitled Who Cares, Wins: Leadership and the Business of Caring. The conclusions for healthcare providers were that they need to,
“clarify how the ‘business of caring’ will be led and managed in their organisation. Structures and processes for patient, carer and public engagement may need to be rethought … be specific about the quality measures they will achieve … establish a conducive organisational culture that puts patient experience at its heart”,
“agree appropriate indicators of how well they are performing in relation to patient experience”.
The report was supplemented by an explanatory study of the clinical content of 60 NHS trust board meetings. Only 14 per cent of the 60 sets of minutes contained any clinical mention.
Members of this House will be familiar with the great deal of progress that has been made since the publication of that report, thanks to the NHS review conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, with its strong emphasis on high quality care. In addition, the Burdett Trust for Nursing commissioned a further piece of work through the King’s Fund, which has just published a report entitled Ward to Board. This was a study of seven pilot units that worked through the recommendations of the Who Cares, Wins report. Within the past few weeks the Royal College of Nursing has published a further report, Breaking Down Barriers, Driving Up Standards, a study into the ward sister’s and charge nurse’s leadership and managerial roles. I hesitate to mention more reports, but these all point to the need for effective leadership, from the patient to the board, with the appropriate accountability and authority at all levels. There has to be a balance between finance and quality but, regrettably, the most recent Healthcare Commission report into the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust demonstrated clearly that the emphasis was on financial targets to the exclusion of high quality clinical outcomes.
Against that background of needing to balance the delivery of high-quality care through effective leadership roles with defined accountability and authority within the allocated financial resources, I shall move on to the principles that apply specifically to the care of older people and those disabled people requiring long-term care. That reminds me of the work that I did over a period of 10 years in the late 1970s and into the 1980s, with those suffering from learning disabilities and psychiatric conditions, with which my noble friend Lord Rix, will be familiar. These services had suffered as what were described as “Cinderella services” through a lack of resources in both finance and a specially trained workforce. Restoring the balance to high-quality care required leadership, tenacity of purpose and the ability to champion change. During that time there were several inquiry reports all sharing 30 of the same areas of mistakes that led to poor-quality care.
Thankfully, we have moved on, but we cannot afford to ignore the signs that indicate that in some areas there is poor quality of care where clinical pathways have not been established and sufficient resources made available, either in hospital or the community. It is at our peril that we ignore the opportunities presented by the next-stage review, the other supporting reports and guidance from the regulator. Each indicate the direction needed to be taken to ensure that these groups of people receive the high- quality care and support that they deserve, to allow so far as possible a fulfilling life of independence and dignity that does not impose impossible strain on their families and friends who undertake the caring function.
The enabling legislation in the current Health Bill clearly sets out ways forward for raising standards. It is important that work is already in hand, led by the Chief Nursing Officer, Dame Christine Beasley, towards implementing the recommendations of the Minister’s review, encouraging the development of education for nurses and midwives both pre-registration and post-registration, bringing in teaching to establish best-evidence practice of high correlation of theory to practice and the work introducing measurement of quality care, all working towards enabling staff and empowering the people towards high-quality care.
However, could not further consideration be given to how implementation can be achieved by building on leadership skills, championing change processes within the appropriate attitudinal approach and sensitivity required for the compassionate care needed by this group of older people and those suffering from longer term disabilities?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, spoke so eloquently about these important issues and I congratulate her on securing this debate.
We know about the ageing of our population and we know that the huge numbers of older people will include many with acquired disabilities even if they did not have them earlier, so we are talking about very large numbers of people. Yet unfortunately age discrimination is still rife and those older people who need care and support often get much smaller packages than young people who have similar needs. I remember saying very often that if you are going to get a disability, make sure you get it before the age of 64 because your benefits and the help you get will not be the same if you are older. That is really unacceptable and it just goes on.
We need a clear timetable for reform where it is so urgently needed. All the different payments and care sources need to be brought together so that people who are frail and vulnerable and often in a crisis situation—where they and their families may be in urgent need of advice—do not have to go from one place to another. If you are frail, old and tired, you cannot always do that. People just need a one-stop shop where they can get the advice and help that they need without charge and they know exactly what is going to be available to them.
We also really need to have human rights embedded in the services that are provided. Human rights can do a great deal to ensure dignity and respect for people, and should be at the heart of commissioning as well as regulation. At the moment an awful lot of the help that is provided has become more and more task-oriented and time-limited. If a care assistant or a worker goes into somebody’s home they just have time to get them up or put them to bed. They do not have time to deliver the humane care and the kindness really needed by the sort of people we are talking about, who are very vulnerable, often very lonely and desperately in need of help.
The personalisation agenda is very good. It can help enormously and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, has said it must be introduced with a high degree of sensitivity, recognising that a lot of people will need continuing help in managing the care package they will receive. That package and the resources allocated to it should be fair and transparent; it needs to be outcome-focused, as Age Concern and Help the Aged have stressed continually. Free advice is essential and funding remains an enormous issue.
On dementia, which the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, underlined, 75 per cent of people in care homes today suffer from some form of dementia, but two-thirds of all sufferers are actually still living in the community. This is a desperate situation, not just for them, but for their families and those who care for them. Unfortunately, we know that the early stages of dementia are often misdiagnosed and that dementia research is abysmally underfunded. It receives just 2.5 per cent of the Government’s medical research budget, but more people suffer from this than suffer from cancer or heart conditions. It is an urgent need. We must get more research done because we must find the answers to this huge problem.
The national strategy is excellent, but there is no mention in it of research funding, which is a huge omission. An awful lot of people suffering from dementia are at the beginning of an appalling journey into the care system. Discrimination is even worse when we talk about dementia. Even calling it “social care” when other illnesses come under the NHS is one form of discrimination that should not continue.
We have heard it eloquently said that a new, fair system of funding must be found for residential care. There are all sorts of proposals, some of which are excellent. The organisation with which I am connected, the ILC, has proposed a national care fund, which is an interesting idea. However, whichever system is used, whether it is that proposed by Wanless, the Rowntree Foundation or the King’s Fund, we must soon find an answer. We must also do something to protect the self-funders, who are often subjected to an illegal, unpublicised tax by having to pay extra to care home managers to fund their care because their local authority’s funding does not cover it. That is not the way in which taxes should be levied in this country.
We must find a way of ensuring fairness and equality in the long-term reform. If we cannot get it from the Green Paper, we have to hope that the equality Bill will do something to ensure that it happens before very long.
We know that preventive care has virtually disappeared in recent years, so the people we are talking about are left without the help that they need. I hope very much, as has been said, that the Green Paper is not lost as the forthcoming election draws closer. We need a single budget as the basis of assessment. The transformation agenda could do a great deal to make this a reality.
One-third of men and a half of women over 65 will need some long-term care. There is a strong case for bringing the funding streams together and producing sound advice for every family facing these serious and difficult issues, which are not easy to face. We must have a service which puts the individual and their family first and which gains the confidence of all our population, both young and old.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Fookes. I am always amazed by the marvellous speeches she makes without even a note in front of her, none better than today’s on this important subject. I am pleased that we are debating this subject, but it is tremendously wide. We have heard about so many aspects of it already and I am sure that more will follow.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, commented on dementia, which has to be very high on the list of priorities, because it is a living bereavement. Some people who have advanced dementia respond better to a formal, official, regimented type of care than to their own relatives, whom they no longer recognise. There is a Member of this House whose husband was having such care. When he was brought home, he said that he wanted to go home, by which he meant the care home in which he had been. That of course was very upsetting for her.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who cannot be here today and who has done so much for disabled people, has asked me to raise the need for disabled people to have adequate help with fuel because, being unable to move, they feel the cold much more than anyone else. That applies also to people who are unable to move due to illness. The noble Baroness also thinks that there should be free prescriptions for the long-term disabled and says that it is most unusual that some people get them and others do not. She asked me to raise that point.
Volunteers can play a great role in shopping, helping in the garden or painting your front door. They can play a very big part and help people who are still living in their own home but can no longer manage these tasks. We want to see encouragement, particularly at this time when a lot of young people have no employment; it would be very good for them to have an occupation. Young people benefit quite a lot from helping older people who are in need. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, commented on the eye-watering squeeze on public money. I am sure that that is true and that we will all be faced with it in the years ahead because of the bank situation.
It is funny how life is often bittersweet. I got my peerage in 1981; in the same year, my daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She has done wonders over these years and she has done a lot for other people. We have to realise that some disabled people do help others. In her case—and I suppose I should declare an interest—she is chairman of the trustees of the Gardening for Disabled Trust, which helps people of all ages. It helps many with learning difficulties, too, at any age, along with those who have advancing illness or age or disability. In the last year, it has helped people with chronic back and hip trouble; people who have visual, physical or mental disabilities or problems; people who need to reorganise their garden on grounds of illness or age; and residents in long-stay hospitals or nursing homes who share a garden, as they sometimes do. The charity gave out £31,000 in 2007, in 41 grants averaging about £650. Sarah herself is no longer able to work full-time, but she has to go and have exercise regularly. Multiple sclerosis is one of those conditions where you tend to go downhill. You need to keep your muscles toned up—but they are doing a great deal to help, and there is tremendous research going on.
On the subject of research, only last week we had a presentation on glaucoma in the House of Commons, in the Members’ Dining Room. A wonderful professor from Moorfields explained that prevention is the thing, and that it was terribly important that older people have tests every year if they are showing any sort of inclination towards glaucoma. He went on to explain to me later that they are doing research that indicates that they will be able to develop such tissues that the body will be able to repair itself and that blindness might even be reversed in future. That would be a marvellous thing for people. As he explained, the moment you have lost your eyesight, you have lost so much in life—it is one of the most important things. He believes that if the research can solve the problem of how the body can heal itself and reinstate damaged tissue—and that is what he thinks they are working on and can eventually happen—all sorts of conditions that we cannot treat now could be reversible and, instead of people seeing their sight going generally downhill over so many years, they will find that they can reverse it.
Another essence of prevention is mobility. Bus passes are really enormously valuable to people. When I was chairman of social services in Westminster we first brought in free bus passes. When Ken Livingstone took over, he added the title “freedom pass” and implied that it was his own invention, when it had been going for many years before that. If we can keep people fit, mobile and interested in life, there is a hope that we can cut back on the enormous and growing demand for care, which at the moment is unfortunately projected by the University of Kent to increase by 95 per cent. Unless we can do more in prevention and reversal, we will have a terrible problem. Let us do what we can to stop that.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, on instituting this debate, and apologise for the fact that, as I am 16 years above the average age of Members of this House, I am afraid that I do not have the facility of being able to speak so freely without notes.
Last Friday, there was the Second Reading of the Disabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill, which the Government are apparently not minded to support. Earlier last week, my noble friend Lady Boothroyd asked an Oral Question about learning disability and NHS accommodation. In the light of those two recent interventions and the fact that I am president of Mencap, I am sure that your Lordships will understand if I personalise a quote from Sir Joshua Reynolds: I will be obliged to imitate myself and repeat what I have before often repeated.
The Government quite rightly set themselves the target of closing old NHS campuses by 2010 so that all people with a learning disability could be supported to live in the community rather than be treated as patients with a medical condition. This transition has been absolutely welcome given the undignified conditions and low standards of care that existed in the majority of those campuses. However, for some of those people with complex needs, being transferred to an underresourced system could prove to be disastrous. Some of those remaining in NHS accommodation have received round-the-clock support of a decent standard. They may now be expected to perform totally unfamiliar daily tasks as local authorities become responsible for them but while new funds intended for those with complex needs are diverted to other areas of the underfunded social care system. Rather than promoting independence and inclusion, the transition can lead to an even more restricted and difficult lifestyle, or simply a transfer of dependence on to parents, who must become full-time carers.
As I said, my noble friend Lady Boothroyd raised this important point in her Oral Question last week. She highlighted the lack of any statutory duty on local authorities to provide 24-hour care. Even if it does not introduce such a duty, the Department of Health should at least play a far stronger role in overseeing this transfer. Sudden adjustments should not be made to people's care without inappropriate planning and support in place. In the same vein, responsibility to provide social care for disabled people in supported living is shifting from primary care trusts to local authorities. Again, that is a welcome policy, but the Department of Health must show stronger leadership to ensure that change is not too hasty and support is not reduced. It must cover the extra costs that arise. Otherwise, this well-meaning policy will continue to diminish quality of life for many of those who are supposed to benefit.
All this is against the backdrop of the Government's vision of equal citizenship for disabled people by 2025. The reality at present is not matching up to that vision. Likewise, I remain deeply concerned that government commitments in Valuing People Now will not be realised unless the funding is there. From day one, families feel that they must fight with their local authority to get even minimal support. Too often, support is limited and inconsistent, the processes to get that support are time-consuming and tiring, and information is inaccessible. In turn, local authorities explain that they simply do not have the budget to meet demands. It should be made clear in statute that entitlement to care must apply equally to all people who need support, whether due to impairments resulting from age, or whether due to a lifelong physical, sensory or learning disability. Entitlement should be based on an understanding of human rights that belongs to us all. We should be deeply ashamed that the Joint Committee on Human Rights reported that:
“For many adults with learning disabilities, the violation of their human rights is seen as a normal part of their everyday lives”.
Support is growing for a national resource allocation system, which would operate with human rights as its basis, assessing each individual's needs in order to realise their rights and work out their entitlement accordingly, whether in the form of direct care provision or an individual budget which truly empowers that person. Such a system would avoid the current postcode lottery which penalises, for example, someone with a mild or moderate learning disability who unfortunately lives in one of the three-quarters of local authority areas where services are provided only for those with substantial or critical needs.
The consequences of failure to assess and keep up with demand are already being felt across the country. People who need support with most or even all aspects of daily life have seen their care reduced. Those requiring less care have seen it taken away altogether amid tightening eligibility criteria. Furthermore, if you need social care, some local authorities have started charging for services that were previously free.
Until the Education (Handicapped Children) Act 1970, children and adults with a learning disability were more or less excluded from society. Since that time, and especially in the past 15 years, a plethora of Acts, White Papers, Green Papers, regulations, targets, codes of practice and guidelines have poured forth from successive Governments applying to all disabled people, with spillage affecting the old and infirm. Some of this well-meaning legislation has indeed been efficacious, but much of it has struggled to have the desired effect through lack of resources and through myriad loopholes though which government, local government, social services and health authorities can sidestep their obligations. How often do we hear that pathetic excuse “lessons have been learned”? Were they learned by the carers in Cornwall who abused people with a learning disability? Were they learned by the health workers who allowed people with a learning disability to die as reported in Mencap's Death by Indifference, which will be the subject of an ombudsman’s report next week, and is it not too late for lessons to be learned by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust?
“‘That's the reason they're called lessons’, the Gryphon remarked: ‘because they lessen from day to day.’”
Unhappily they do not. Is it not time we closed the book on Alice in Wonderland and provided decent, dignified and discerning care for all older adults and all disabled people?
My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate, which so far has been wide-ranging, covering not only important issues but issues on which key decisions are about to be made. I want to make a contribution on a narrow part of this issue by reporting to the House on some pioneering work taking place in the Derbyshire Dales. I will particularly pick up on one of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes.
I declare an interest as a patron of the charity First Taste, which was set up in 1997 by a group of volunteers who had reached a stage in their life where elder relatives were in care. They were struck by the apparent lack of engagement and activity evident in some elderly people and in some of the care homes. The charity’s mission is to celebrate and enhance the quality of life for older people in nursing, residential and day care settings in the Derbyshire Dales, by encouraging participation and involvement in the arts. In short, it brings access to the arts and lifelong learning into residential and care settings.
Of course, there are many care settings throughout the country where residents are encouraged to join in creative activities. I am talking about something very different; First Taste has created something of a completely different order. Last year, in Bakewell, Matlock and the surrounding area, 301 tutorial workshops delivered carefully planned programmes in 19 nursing and residential care establishments and nine day centres. They were delivered by 21 tutors, each qualified and trained in their subject and coming mainly from the further education and community arts sectors. The programme is delivered jointly with care staff. It is a requirement in the homes involved that their care staff should join in the delivery so that the tutors can follow up the activities between sessions.
The charity’s flagship programme is called TOPIC—tutoring older people in care—and delivers a structured programme including art, music and digital photography. It has four objectives: to encourage care staff to develop new skills; to strengthen the mental and physical health of residents and to help them to develop new skills; to give residents and staff the opportunity to re-engage with learning; and to introduce new technologies to currently excluded groups.
As in all effective learning, the progress made by residents is recorded and monitored against the objectives of the programme. I am used to seeing profiles of learning by seven and 17 year-olds, but to see a profile of learning by a 90-odd year-old was something that I had not experienced before. The skills learnt by the care staff are recorded as well and can be used by them towards further formal qualifications. They certainly become skills that they can transfer to jobs elsewhere in the sector.
The results are impressive. External valuation of the programme commented that nowhere else in the United Kingdom are similar packages of consistent, regular learning opportunities offered to older people in care. The assessments of those involved are equally positive. One care worker said that it had given her a new respect for residents; she knew more about them and had more to talk to them about. A care home manager talked about it building trust between staff and residents. However, a particularly important measure of success and impact is that, in one home, an approximate reduction of a third in medication such as antidepressants and sleeping tablets was indicated.
This is the story of a group of people under the inspired leadership of Shirley Davison and Iris Wagstaffe who did something to solve a problem that they saw in their community. Like all charities, they struggle from year to year to raise the funds, but they built a locally owned and designed organisation that really makes a difference. In truth, though, we know that what they are addressing is a problem that is not peculiar to the Derbyshire Dales but can be found throughout the country. Too many elderly people believe that life has not much left to offer them and feel excluded from the activities that many other people take for granted.
First Taste shows that, sometimes, we set our sights too low. We reserve our ambitions for those who are younger or fitter. We talk about universal access to the arts or say that we are committed to lifelong learning but, when we say that, do we include the elderly and frail? First Taste students range from their early 70s to 101, proof that, at every stage of life, we can benefit from learning and creativity.
First Taste has responded to its community, but its ambition—and it should be ours, too—is to allow others to learn from its success. Of course we need to get the basics right in the care of the elderly and disabled, but we must be sure that we understand the breadth of what basic need is. The Government recognise the value of this sort of work. At First Taste, we are more than grateful for the interest and support shown by the lifelong learning division of DIUS, which, fortunately for us, happens to be based in Sheffield.
I ask the Minister what action she and her department can take to establish access to arts and learning as an essential and required part of care for the elderly. What does the department know about what is already happening in this field? Has it modelled best practice? How robustly is this aspect of care monitored by the inspection framework? What support is there for care homes that want to develop this sort of activity? What resource is allocated?
In the 21st century, our expectations for elderly and frail people should be higher than ever. The problems that have been identified by First Taste, and their solutions, could and should become part of a national entitlement. Without support from the centre, and from the Government in Westminster, that will not happen. However, if we could deliver this, we would make a really positive contribution to discharging the responsibility and debt that we owe elderly and frail people.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for introducing a debate of such great importance and for doing so in a speech of such fluency and interest. I will confine myself to speaking about those with long-term learning disabilities and, in doing so, declare my interests as a parent of a daughter with that condition and chairman of the trustees of a residential home for women with learning disabilities in Hampshire.
The Government are to be congratulated on recently producing the publication Valuing People Now and the proposals contained in it. It sets out ambitious plans for ensuring the quality and enrichment of life for all those with a learning disability and provides structured steps to achieve these objectives over the next few years. I welcome this commitment.
At this stage, I make only two comments. First, achieving those objectives depends a great deal on successful interaction between a whole range of bodies, from regional offices and local authorities to strategic health authorities and PCTs, and such interaction in recent times and in other fields has not always proved to be—how can I put it?—entirely fruitful. Secondly, there is in the proposals a welcome commitment to the production of checks such as those provided by annual reports and other publications. However, these are of course only worth while as long as effective remedial action is taken in respect of weaknesses in the system identified by such publications.
Before leaving this point, I ask the Minister when the national learning disability board, from which basically everything will flow, is to be set up. There was an indication in Valuing People Now that the national director would be appointed in February. Has this in fact happened and, if not, when is it anticipated that the director and board will be in place?
Much needs to be done in this important area at a time when, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, mentioned, there is likely to be financial famine. Although the Government are investing hundreds of millions of pounds in transforming commissioning, nothing, so far as I am aware, has been set aside to transform provision that has correctly been identified as inefficient and out of date.
Perhaps the House will allow me to divert from the general to the particular for a moment. The home with which I am associated fits the aforementioned description. We are accordingly seeking to create a modern facility to meet the new standards while promoting the independence of our residents and enriching their lives. Although redevelopment may be viewed as costly, in many cases inefficiency is more so. Yet this dilemma is frequently ignored because it is a big theme with long-distance implications, which requires vision, co-operation and boldness in its solution. If the problem is not dealt with, however, and sooner rather than later, there will eventually be a mismatch between commissioner and provider, with all the heartache and frustration that that entails.
On the more general front of financial provision, the Centre for Disability Research has estimated that the annual increase in new learning disability clients will be between 3.2 and 5.5 per cent, against the Department of Health’s assumption of a rise of only 1 per cent. The greater increase is due to a number of factors, ranging from greater longevity for those with profound learning disability to an increase in the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome due to a growing number of older mothers. However, such a discrepancy in the estimates surely calls for urgent government research and for the true state of play to be established. Can the Minister give an assurance that such a study will be undertaken as a matter of urgency?
The fact is that there is currently a substantial gap between demand and what is available; again, this will become even more pronounced in the months and years ahead. Day services are being cut, as I know through personal experience. Even more alarmingly, 73 per cent of councils now offer support only to those deemed to have substantial needs. This, of course, stems from councils currently being under extreme financial pressure. It has been estimated that, even with less expenditure and reduced support, three-quarters had overspent their learning disability budget by 2.7 per cent in 2006-07—that was the situation then, let alone now. The previous national director for learning disability has stated that an additional £1 million for each English local authority would be needed every year for the next 10 years to provide good-quality social care, adding up to a whopping £1.5 billion over current expenditure levels. The mind boggles.
I applaud the work of CSCI and many local authorities, particularly my own. I also give three cheers for the departure from the uniformity of old. Let us rejoice at self-advocacy and people-centred planning and at stretching the horizons and quality of life for all those in social care. Amidst all the justifiable enthusiasm for independence and self-enhancement, however, one must never forget that there are many who, sadly, may be unable to look after themselves completely—a fact of life of which the parents and carers are only too well aware. This experience and knowledge must never be ignored or dismissed lightly by the authorities. In giving thanks, I reserve my special tribute to the many hundreds of dedicated social workers who labour with love and energy to make life better for those in need. They really deserve such a tribute. Whatever financial stringencies confront us in the years ahead, let it never be said that we neglected by one iota the well-being and human rights of our vulnerable communities.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those given to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, for securing time to debate these very important questions. I shall confine my remarks to the long-term care of older people. The disability case was so well put by my noble friends Lord Rix and Lord Tenby that I shall focus on the older section of the community. I declare two interests: I am president of Alzheimer Scotland, where I see marvellous things being done on a voluntary basis by those who care, by those who need care who provide support for others and by those members of the wider community who have become involved in their excellent work. I am also an adviser to Scottish Care and to English Community Care Association, organisations devoted to improving the professionalism and quality of care homes in our community.
Where are we now? Several years have passed since 1996-97, when the Labour Party assessed the big issues in the light of the forthcoming election and included as a very high priority in its manifesto the need to address long-term care of the elderly. Reference has been made to the previous Prime Minister’s attitude to this issue. A Royal Commission was established, but here we are, in 2009, essentially facing the same questions. That is a scandal and a disgrace. The Government have had plenty of advice. They did not like the Royal Commission’s advice. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has produced two reports and the IPPR has produced a report, as have the King’s Fund, Derek Wanless and others. They have had plenty of advice. What is lacking is the will to create a policy that will drive direction. My basic question to the Minister has to be, when will we have a policy? Let it not be after the next election, as a further two years would be wasted, with their attendant misery.
A key principle enunciated by the Royal Commission is the need to have equity, which I do not think anyone doubts. One could argue about what this means. I pin my colours to the mast when I say that it means spreading the risk across the whole community. As has been said, you may have liver failure, lung cancer or a broken arm, but care will be provided by the state, whereas if you have dementia, a form of brain disease, you are in a very different position indeed. That is appalling. If we cannot afford to cover all these conditions, we should at least ensure that the risk is spread so that there is equity between various forms of illness. As some noble Lords have said in their excellent speeches, a single pattern of assessment with a single common set of criteria of need that operates without postcode intervention and local authority change is required. The lack of such an assessment causes much agony and annoyance across England. It does not happen in Wales, and we should ask why. It is not that there is more money or a different policy, rather that they seem to be able to make it work. It does not happen in Northern Ireland, and I shall come back to Scotland in a moment. A single pattern of assessment and definition of needs, accompanied by a single point of commissioning, is required—what my noble friend Lady Greengross referred to as the one-stop shop. Those in need, carers or those who need care desperately call for a single point of contact, a single reference, where they can be dealt with as whole human beings, not as a series of bureaucratic items spread round various Civil Service departments. Behind that lies the need for a single budget, which was recommended by the Royal Commission more than 10 years ago.
The local authorities that are most successful in this regard in these difficult times are those that have managed to bring together health provision and social care provision, sometimes through a single chief executive appointment. This has happened at key points throughout the country. It works well, everyone benefits and money is spent more efficiently. Will the Government ensure that this best practice is spread more widely?
The range of funds available can cause uncertainty for those in need of care. No one attempts to co-ordinate health service funds, social care funds, attendance allowance, disability allowance and housing adaptation budgets. I challenge the Audit Commission to determine whether we are getting value for money in that regard. Huge sums are involved but often different criteria are applied to them, which means that they do not constitute best value for the community or the individual.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, used two mischievous —or worse—expressions in regard to funding in Scotland. He said that Scotland had runaway costs and severe rationing. On the best interpretation, that is the product of irresponsible headlines. I will not tell noble Lords the worst interpretation as it would be unparliamentary to do so. However, the provision of care in all its forms for older people in Scotland costs £2.5 billion, of which personal and social care accounts for £225 million—that is less than a tenth. Of that, £30 million in attendance allowance is saved, so you can knock that off. The difference between Welsh policy and Scottish policy amounts to 14 per cent of total costs paid from the private sector. That means that the gap as regards what is not provided in Wales but is provided in Scotland is about £40 million. However, there is a £30 million saving in attendance allowance alone. What happens to the attendance allowance money? It stays with the Department for Work and Pensions and does not go back into care. I am being signalled that I have spoken for nearly seven minutes. I end with the single message that we should look at the numbers and find out what the net cost is, not the headline cost. I hope that the Government will soon define their policy.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. We have heard 10 excellent speeches. I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, on initiating the debate. Its timing is absolutely perfect. In those 10 speeches, we have heard about families who have been very significantly affected by physical or mental impairment. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, made an emotional and powerful speech which demonstrated that no matter how strong a family is, the fickle finger of fate can strike unexpectedly. This is not an argument just about people who are in financial adversity; it can hit anyone.
If you are looking for another example, look at what the author Terry Pratchett has been able to do in demonstrating his courage. He is so successful and established, and his bravery in confronting his condition is an example and a signal for many that there are planning and practical things that can and should be done. I hope that this debate will encourage people to think about these kinds of things.
More than anything else, I add my voice to those who say that the delay that the Government are now engaged in is completely unconscionable. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, used the word “scandalous”. Many of us studied the valuable piece of work that the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Sutherland, did 10 years ago. For me, it was the appendices and the volume of evidence that the Royal Commission put into the public domain that convinced me beyond peradventure 10 years ago that this was an unanswerable case and something had to be done. There were high expectations that something would be done, and those expectations have been dashed.
That is not a cost-free problem. In those 10 years, if people had had a signal about the direction of travel that the Government were going in, they could have made practical dispositions and taken steps to try to configure their lives during their working life by saving contributions, taking out insurance policies during their working life and building up circumstances to protect themselves for longevity and long-term care. No one has been able to make any sensible dispositions, because we do not know what the circumstances are going to be. It is absolutely imperative. It is not the Minister’s fault, because she is perfect in every way as a Minister. The Government have got a case to answer given the lack of any real direction of travel.
Reports have been published not just by the Royal Commission but by the King’s Fund, the Wanless commission and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. There is no shortage of things that can and should be done. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is right to say that the resources that we are looking for will be harder and harder to find. That is not a reason for doing nothing. I do not think that he was saying that; I think that he was saying that we have to be practical and realistic. Everyone is prepared to be practical and realistic, but as a nation we have to understand that the total wealth devoted to this subject will have to increase, because we are all living longer. One in four people born in the United Kingdom today will live to be 100. Even if we do nothing, it is going to cost us more.
Of course, the funds have to be found from somewhere, and we cannot look to the Government to do everything, because taxation has a part to play. No one is saying that this all must be paid for out of general taxation. People are looking for individuals to be encouraged to make working-age contributions, and they even are looking for families who can to make positive contributions, either out of personal pensions, state pensions, liquid assets or heritable assets. No one thinks that this is going to be easy, and everyone wants to contribute to sharing some of the costs.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, about sharing risks is nearly as important as the costs; it is an essential part of this deal. If you can share the risks across the generations, across age groups and across households, you get a much better deal for everyone. These things are obvious, and they are staring the Government directly in the face. It is puzzling why it has taken so long to get a Green Paper, for heaven’s sake. The point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, at the beginning of the debate. That suggests to me that there is no prospect of legislation this side of an election. We may have a new Government after the next election, for all I know. You never know what might happen. That Government might say that they need a Royal Commission to start again. The situation is urgent. People may say that long-term care is a long-term policy, and it is, but we are running out of time to enable people to make proper dispositions for themselves and their families and in the future to protect themselves against some of these devastating things that can hit families.
The demographic trends are known and have been mentioned. I wonder whether people understand just how dire some of the resource problems and care problems will begin to look. Looking at the demographics, by 2050 there will be twice as many people over the age of 85. That has really compelling policy implications, not just in health, care and transport but other things. We need to understand the extent of the problem. I was very encouraged by the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley. We are far too unambitious about what we can do with people who are reaching the end of their natural life.
As someone who spends quite a lot of time in the House of Commons gymnasium, I can tell you that its locker room is an interesting place to be; you learn all sorts of things in strange circumstances there. I learnt from the professional assistants there that every one of us can be a relatively fitter 70 year-old than we were at 60. You can target improvements in VO2, health and that kind of thing even at the end of your natural life.
We need to introduce arts, photography and music and to involve the community instead of doing this care thing in isolation as we seem to be doing. We are heading towards personalisation. I can understand the value of that, but I am fearful that that just means that people are thinking that everyone can do it for themselves. There is a much wider community interest in this subject. We must not lose that in the pursuit of personalisation of care, which is worth having for itself.
We also have to consider that the context in which this debate is taking place has changed from 10 years ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, who made an excellent speech, with all of which I concur, made the point about human rights now, rightly, being a much bigger part of the equation. Look at what the Government are doing with the Equality Bill, which is being delayed. It looks as if the age discrimination legislation, which the Government are right to advance, is also going to be delayed. Both of these things are intrinsically important to get the dignity and respect agenda properly implemented and enforced. Human rights and dignity, to which we all aspire, are something that the Government need to look to in making their Green Paper proposals.
Noble Lords mentioned quality, which is very important. I can hand on to the Minister for her Easter reading the book by JM Coetzee Slow Man. Coetzee is a very dark author, but he is a wonderful writer, and he describes the circumstances faced by someone who loses a leg in old age, whom he describes as eventually being “unstrung” by the experience. It is a very interesting book, because what he describes more than anything else is the value of the quality of the care rather than the clinical aspect of the package. Some colleagues mentioned that earlier. Sympathy and companionship are nearly as important as the clinical standards that are produced in the package. In the book, he is really saying that you need to care as well as to promote care when you are trying to help people in these dire circumstances.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Fookes on a masterly opening speech in which she very succinctly focused our minds on the importance and the difficulty of this subject. As she said, and as other speakers have implied, this debate foreshadows the forthcoming Green Paper on adult social care and lays before the Government the range of questions which we expect that document to begin to answer.
They are not easy questions. We start from a rather unusual position for a policy review. It is not often that the Government explicitly states of a publicly funded service that it is not sustainable; but that is what the consultation document, Care Support Independence openly acknowledged by citing changing demographics and changing societal expectations. It made the point that those expectations, even now, are often not being met. The document speaks of the need for a,
“radical rethink of how we pay for and deliver care and support services”,
“a new settlement between individuals, families and the Government”.
That may not be quite the right way to put it, and I will come back to that, but the point is that the Government are telling us that the review in prospect is to be no ordinary one.
The background to all this, as noble Lords have said, is that the proportion of older people in our population is growing. You sometimes hear people say that this will not impact unduly on the health and social care budget, because even if people are getting older, they are at the same time freer of illness and disability. Perhaps they are thinking of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, when they say this. Statistically, alas, that is not accurate. Wanless reported that the number of older people suffering from some sort of disability is growing nearly 10 per cent faster than the number of those without a disability. In 20 years, at least 1.7 million more people will have a need for care and support of some kind than at present.
What should we be aspiring to? The Government have set out their vision of how a decent care and support system in the 21st century ought to look. The key words are ones we have heard today: promoting independence and choice, high quality care, targeting support where it is most needed and affordability. It is the last of these where the rub lies. There is a funding cake but the cake is not big enough. We know that, because, as the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and others told us, rationing is already happening at a local level. Eligibility criteria are being constantly tightened.
Where should the extra money come from? One answer that the Government are looking at is for some sort of compulsory savings scheme to cover the cost of care. Some very persuasive voices out there are saying that this is the only way to go; but to many people, compulsory saving may sound suspiciously like a form of extra taxation from which they may never benefit. Certainly we need to look at such a system and see how it might work; but compulsory saving will never be practicable for those on low incomes or, crucially, for those with learning disabilities or who are seriously disabled at a young age. When we look at caring for young, long-term disabled people, I am not averse to the idea of a quite separate structure of public funding, recognising that many of these individuals will not have the chance to acquire financial means of their own.
The injustice that is most often talked about in the current system is that while the prudent and thrifty are penalised in old age by being made to sell their houses to pay for care, the feckless poor have everything paid for them out of the public purse. So far, in 12 years, the Government have said and done almost nothing to resolve this issue, even though Tony Blair highlighted it in 1997 as an injustice. I hope the Green Paper faces the issue head on, either by coming up with a solution—as, I may say, my own party did at the last election—or by admitting that, for now and for the times we live in, it is too difficult a nut to crack. The issue cannot be ducked.
The other injustice in the system, the postcode lottery, was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. If we think there is a postcode lottery in the NHS, there is an equally blatant one in adult social care, which is why the consultation paper floats the idea of moving away from the current system, whereby eligibility for care is decided by local authorities, to a nationally based system. Personally, I am drawn to that idea. As Help the Aged and others have pointed out, the usual argument about local decision-making being better because it can respond more easily to local need is in practice a fiction, because most councils can do little more than provide the essentials to those whose needs are the most serious.
The current debate around social care is not just about the funding gap; it is also about what might be termed the care gap. CSCI have estimated that 6,000 older people in England with high-level support needs are receiving no social services and no informal care, 275,000 older people with less intensive needs also receive no care, and 450,000 people receive some measure of support from family and friends, but their full care needs are unmet. Those are disturbingly large figures, but if we then look at the demographic curve over the next 20 years and the projected ratio of workers to retired people, we see another gap emerging between the number of people needing care and the number who are in a position to deliver it. Some 80 per cent of adults of working age are in some form of employment; the available cohort of women carers is reducing. Like it or not, informal care looks set to be a major element of the care equation for the indefinite future. The London School of Economics has estimated that demand for informal care will actually outstrip supply by 2017. By 2041 there will be a shortfall of 250,000 intense carers—people who give care for more than 20 hours a week. In other words, if we do nothing, a quarter of a million fewer disabled people will receive informal care in 2041 than at the moment. How are we going to bridge that gap?
The answer suggested by various think tanks and informed academics is that we need radically to rethink our views about family and community responsibilities. We cannot look simply to families. Increasingly they are becoming dispersed and fragmented. I am one of those who believe that we need to look beyond the narrow framework of family at neighbourhoods and voluntary groups. In doing so, a fundamental question is to be addressed about the balance of responsibility between society in its various guises and the individual. The respective roles of government, the community, the family and the individual need to be better defined if we are to reach a consensus on what is fair and practicable for the future. If we believe that the wider community has a potential role in delivering care and support, we need to do some hard thinking about how best those forces might be mobilised, and by whom. The Government have an obvious role in facilitating such a process, and so, I believe, does the Church. What would such facilitation look like?
Unfortunately the clock is ticking and there is no time for me to expand at length on that interesting theme, but the Minister may care to read some stimulating ideas coming out under the banner of, among others, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Like my noble friend, I believe that we need to focus public policy much more closely on the role of informal carers and how we might improve their quality of life. Peter Beresford of Brunel University pointed out the irony whereby on the one hand we heap praise on carers for their magnificent and important work, but at the same time we allow their terms and conditions of work to be comparable to, and in many cases worse than, those of supermarket shelf stackers. It is a contradictory attitude. Paid carers are poorly remunerated and poorly trained, and the result is inevitable—high turnover and poor levels of recruitment. Informal carers are, if we are candid, exploited by society as a resource, despite the many things that the Government, to their credit, have done to improve their lot. Good-quality caring requires ability, empathy, warmth and the ability to listen, together with all the things to which the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, referred.
I hope that we will have a chance to come back to these issues after the Green Paper is published. I look forward to reading it as a basis for future consensus but, equally, I look forward to what the Minister is about to say in response to the excellent speeches that we have heard today.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, on her choice of subject and on the absolutely outstanding way in which she introduced it. There can be few issues more important or wide-ranging than the care of older and disabled people. Today, the noble Baroness has provided an opportunity for this House to debate the crucial questions of how we care for and support some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
I shall not be able to take advantage of the full time allocated to me because I wish to give the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, time to respond to this wide-ranging debate. Therefore, if I do not reach any specific questions that noble Lords have put to me, I promise to write to them.
Demographic change is, of course, one of the biggest challenges that this country faces, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and others. We live in an ageing society but it is important to remind ourselves that older people are healthier, more active and more aspiring than before and that life expectancy has improved. Today’s 65 year-old man can expect to live until he is 81 and a woman can expect to live to 84. Older people want to enjoy good health and remain independent for as long as possible. As people get older, remaining independent often depends on health and social care being effective enough to support them. In many aspects of care for older people, the NHS and social care in this country lead the world, thanks to the expertise and dedication of the staff.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for branding me as something like the Mary Poppins of the Government, but I take issue with him on one point. We are very much aware that these are enormous challenges which have to be resolved over a period of time. There is no silver bullet here. However, I think it is fair to say that the current health and social care system has changed substantially from the one that the Government inherited in 1997. I hope that we now have a system that is more responsive, more flexible, more expansive and more empathetic.
Concerns about the care of older people are not new. This Government introduced the first National Service Framework for Older People, the first ever strategy aimed at ensuring high-quality, integrated health and social care services. Since the national service framework was published, there has been steady progress in eliminating age discrimination and improving community health. We have also taken action to extend, for example, access to preventive services, such as flu vaccinations, blood pressure control and breast cancer screening. Older people, in particular, are reaping the rewards of this extra investment.
The next-stage review of the NHS by my noble friend Lord Darzi, published in June 2008, presents a vision of the NHS that consistently delivers the highest quality of care to patients and empowers staff to offer care that is personal, effective and safe. High Quality Care for All, the final report of the next-stage review, sets out the national framework that will enable and support the delivery of the ambitious visions for health and social care published by strategic health authorities last year.
We are also facing unprecedented challenges within social care. An ageing population, higher expectations about what services should be delivered and technological changes mean that a radical rethink is required of the care and support system to meet long-term pressures. That is why, later in the spring, the Government will publish a Green Paper, referred to by many noble Lords, on the reform of the care and support system. This will look at options for developing a sustainable care and support system and at whether it will be possible to develop a new system for all adults and not only for people over 65. The noble Earl correctly outlined the challenges with his usual eloquence. I take on board his reading recommendations, together with those of other noble Lords.
Noble Lords should be, and I believe are, aware that a great deal of work has gone into developing the Green Paper. The public engagement process that ran throughout 2008 enabled many thousands of individuals, as well as organisations, to inform its development. They included the NHS Confederation, the Local Government Association, the TUC, Carers UK, In Control, Age Concern, Help the Aged, Mencap, the Disability Alliance, the Learning Disability Coalition, the National Centre for Independent Living, the Royal College of Nursing, the Allied Health Professions Federation, Crossroads, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, CSCI and so on. Therefore, a great deal of thought has gone into the preparation of the Green Paper. Noble Lords are correct that the Green Paper will not offer a definitive answer to the challenges that we face, but it will give staff, stakeholders and the public the chance to shape the solutions that we take forward. Again, the noble Earl was correct in saying that this is a very serious challenge.
Although the Green Paper will be a major step forward, it is only part of the journey that we are undertaking in transforming care and support. My noble friend Lord Lipsey, with his long-standing expertise, outlined many of the challenges in, as he put it, the landscape of reality that we all face. I also agree with my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, about the importance of good-quality, accurate and independent advice and information for those facing the challenges of old age.
Noble Lords will be aware that the Government launched the national dementia strategy last month, as was mentioned by the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross and Lady Gardner. We hope that this landmark document will set out initiatives to increase awareness of dementia, ensure early diagnosis and treatment, and radically improve the quality of care that people with the condition receive. We are also investing in research into dementia and related neurological conditions.
I hope that, as a Government, we are taking steps to deliver better services for older people. In May 2008, my colleague in another place announced that a prevention package for older people would be developed to address the challenge of providing more and better preventive care. Therefore, we are taking forward core prevention services, such as sight tests, and making the case for commissioners to improve services for foot care, falls and fractures, together with all the important preventive measures that can make such a difference to the lives of the elderly.
Through the carers strategy, we have put a deserved spotlight on the unsung heroes in our society, movingly explained to us by the noble Baronesses, Lady Gardner and Lady Fookes, and others. I refer to the 6 million carers who make an enormous contribution to their local communities and who should get all the support they need to continue this important work. We launched the carers strategy in June 2008. The aim of its key components is to ensure that carers have increased choice and control, and we are investing £255 million to ensure that the new strategy is implemented. That includes £150 million over two years for people to take breaks from caring—a point rightly highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes.
Before moving on, I shall refer quickly to a few other points that were raised concerning older people. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, made a very interesting contribution about the Hampshire commission’s report, which I should like to read. It seems to take a very practical look at the challenges that people face, and it sounds like a document that deserves wider appreciation.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Fookes and Lady Thomas, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, raised the issue of people selling their homes. In 2001, we ended the unfair system whereby people in care homes paid for their nursing costs by selling their home, and introduced deferred payments to help people to avoid having to sell against their wishes. However, charging for care is not new; people have always had to pay for their social care, but there is obviously a continuing debate about that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, raised the issue of personalisation and giving people choice and control over their social care needs. Putting People First, when it was launched over a year ago, earmarked £520 million in total to develop personalised social care, £85 million of which has already gone into the system and £195 million is coming on stream in the next year. It is central to the transformation of giving individuals a personal budget and understanding how it should be met, but I agree that it has to be a supported choice.
So far I have focused on the needs of older people but we should not forget the challenges we face concerning all adults and disabled people who have the right to expect quality of citizenship, independence and a full life, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton and the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Last year the Government launched the independent living strategy which aims to give disabled people greater choice and control over the support that they need to go about their daily lives and how it is provided. We are making progress in delivering this strategy and we are committed to measuring it and reporting on it annually. The principles of control, choice and, particularly, empowerment are fundamental to Putting People First. This concordat sets out a cross-sector commitment to personalising public services and the need for the state to empower citizens to shape their own lives and the services they receive. It supports the commitment to independent living for all adults and is unique in establishing a collaborative approach between central and local government, the sector’s professional leadership, providers and the regulator.
User-led organisations which are controlled by disabled people have a key role to play in delivering personalisation and independent living. Indeed, following this debate I am going to a workshop about exactly that. We are investing more than £1.6 million over the next two years to support the development of up to 25 learning sites around the country to develop best practice and share experience. We will announce very shortly the sites that will receive the funding.
The new equality Bill will also benefit the most vulnerable among us and create a more equal society. The Bill will streamline the law, distilling nine pieces of legislation into a single Act. I am not aware of any delay on its production at the moment. I was at an equality Bill meeting yesterday. The existing disability duty puts a responsibility on public authorities to, among other things, eliminate discrimination and harassment, promote equality of opportunity, promote positive attitudes and encourage participation of disabled people in public life. We plan to retain all those principles for disabled people in the new duty, and extend them to other strands. We have some good existing legislation that protects against discrimination with regard to race, religion, and sexual orientation while at work, but there are other areas where this protection is missing. Through the equality Bill we have the chance to build on that legislation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, spoke movingly about the importance of tailored care packages and the need for humanity and kindness to be at the heart of all our work. She is absolutely correct about that.
I shall now respond to some of the comments made on the issues. I promised the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that I would try to answer his points about the campus and care for learning-disabled people. The responses to the Valuing People consultation published in December 2007 showed a common theme from respondents across the stakeholder groups that what was needed was choice in housing options. For some people that meant choice over where a person lived and for others it meant retaining the kind of residential service options alongside tenancies and home ownerships. Experience shows that a number of plans might indicate a preference for congregate living and we need to recognise that. I believe that it is a transitional problem. To support the programme to close NHS campus-style services, a £96 million revenue grant has been made available over the next three years, increasing to £175 million in the coming period.
I am afraid that I cannot address all the questions that were raised, but I want to end on an optimistic note. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, reminded us that we should be optimistic, especially when she talked about the research and the hope for medical advances in these areas. She was absolutely right. The noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, reminded us of the importance of leadership and nursing practice in the care of elderly and disabled people. My noble friend Lady Morris reminded us through her explanation about First Taste that this is not just about caring for bodies but also about caring for people’s souls. The noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, also reminded us that we need to move forward optimistically.
We might anticipate that a debate led by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and with the participation of distinguished colleagues from around the House, would be of the highest quality, and indeed it was. I thank noble Lords once again for their excellent contributions today.
My Lords, from the bottom of my heart I thank all those who have contributed to this fascinating debate today. Each one has brought a degree of expertise and personal experience that has been truly illuminating in this very important subject. While all those who spoke seemed to suggest that we needed a radical look at the whole policy for the future, perhaps inevitably the Minister, in the absence of the Green Paper, could not give us that radical outlook. From my point of view I still feel that it is jam tomorrow but not jam today. On that note, I again thank all who contributed to the debate and seek leave to withdraw the Motion.
My Lords, it is a great delight and honour for me to open today’s debate about a great man who represented a great era in our history, when scientific and technological developments moved us into a new world. This very building is a product of that age and I have been wondering whether the great man spent any time here in your Lordships’ House. I feel sure, however, that had the Life Peerages Act been around then, he would have been a most distinguished Member of this House.
Charles Darwin was a man who asked questions and found many of the answers. He was a diligent collector and a meticulous observer who had the patience to spend 20 years evaluating his evidence and developing his theories. He has been called one of the most influential Britons of all time and the most important natural historian ever. There can be no doubt that his theory of evolution by natural selection shaped scientific thinking and dramatically influenced the society in which we live today.
His achievements are rightly being celebrated in this bicentenary year and this, in turn, has drawn our attention and recognition to the work of his contemporaries, such as Sir Richard Owen, the founder of the Natural History Museum, Wallace and Lyell—with whom he corresponded extensively—and William Paley, the Archdeacon of Carlisle, to name but a few. That also cross-references to the work of Mendel and other scientists, leading us on to the double helix of Francis Crick and James Watson in the 1950s. It is a compelling fact that 150 years after the publication of The Origin of Species modern genetics has proved that all life is related.
Today is also a family occasion. Direct descendants of the Darwin family are present in your Lordships’ House and some of the descendants of friends and colleagues of Darwin will be speaking in this debate. Another remarkable coincidence is that this is the 150th anniversary of the first publication of The Origin of Species and the direct descendant of John Murray the publisher, which is still a family business, will re-enact the publication of the original book on 24 November this year. These links provide a wonderful sense of continuity of history and enjoyment of our heritage.
When I tabled this Motion for debate towards the end of last year, I was concerned that the bicentenary of this great man might not be duly recognised. In the event, I was proved very wrong. There has been almost overwhelming coverage: the splendid exhibition at the Natural History Museum; the Radio 4 series, preceded by one of the special programmes made by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg; the television series—need I mention Sir David Attenborough and Andrew Marr in this context?—innumerable books devoted to Darwin’s life and times; and exhibitions and conferences up and down the country. The exhibition at Down House, Darwin’s home, is particularly significant. In the words of Sir Barry Cunliffe, the chairman of English Heritage, that exhibition,
“places Down House firmly on the international map as one of the world’s most important scientific heritage sites and brings to life the man and his family, his painstaking research and his groundbreaking theories”.
There is even the launch of the Beagle project, about which we shall hear more from the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, in due course.
Perhaps I should explain my interest and involvement in the work of Charles Darwin. It stems from my love of Latin America, in particular, of Ecuador, where I was fortunate enough to spend a postgraduate year—now many years ago—and although my thesis focused on international law and economics, I became intrigued by the tales I heard of the Galapagos Islands and was infected by the enthusiasm of the then British ambassador to Ecuador, Gerard Corley Smith, who eventually become one of the first chairmen of the Charles Darwin Foundation, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The fact that Charles Darwin was so stimulated as a young man by what he found in Brazil and other parts of South America as well as in the Galapagos Islands warmed me to him. The amazing fact about the Galapagos Islands is that all the birds that Darwin saw are still there. However, the mocking birds—the main basis for his research, not the finches as is popularly thought—although still there, are critically endangered. There is an urgent need to preserve all the things that mocking birds depend on. There is a project led by Felipe Cruz of the Charles Darwin Foundation on the island of Floreana, so action is being taken. I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, intends to elaborate on it and on the invaluable work of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, which is trying to preserve the environment of the islands.
However, the fact remains that modern communications and, unfortunately, tourism have deprived the Galapagos Islands of the isolation that they had enjoyed for so many thousands of years. What Darwin saw there—cormorants that had lost the power of flight, lizards that swam out to sea, the mocking birds and the giant tortoises—may still be there, but they are threatened on a scale never before seen. It is important that there should be awareness of this and that appropriate action should be taken.
My Lords, this is meant to be a helpful interjection. The noble Baroness makes a fascinating point, but I shall pose one of the central questions. Some people think that the whole point of Darwin is that species have to die out. What are we doing to preserve them? That question is lurking around this debate.
My Lords, that was a helpful interjection, and some of my distinguished colleagues will be able to tackle that question much better than I can.
I was on the point of moving from that aspect of Darwin’s life to explore a little the controversy over his theory of evolution and the concept of intelligent design. In other words, the arguments of the Bible literalists and those who say that Darwin’s theory reduces humanity to a by-product of blind forces against those who say that God cannot exist because there is no evidence to prove it. I realise that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and doubtless other noble Lords will be exploring this further before there is another helpful interjection.
My view is that between the extremes of the argument lies a middle path. I agree with the view that faith and science are not fundamentally opposed to one another, and I also believe that faith is a gift. I somehow feel that Darwin was not an extremist. He saw what he saw, his observations were scientific and his methodology was rigorous. As he says in his autobiography, at one stage in his life, he was convinced that,
“there is more in man than the mere breath of his body”.
I think that is a wonderful way of describing what many of us feel. Yet we are told that he died an agnostic, so not only did he not know, but he did not know whether it was possible to know, which I understand is the definition of an agnostic. The reasons for Darwin’s loss of faith are of interest and relevance to believers and non-believers today. Questions about what constitutes legitimate and sufficient evidence for religious beliefs or how we understand or accommodate suffering within a religious context continue, and doubtless will continue, to be asked. However, it is important to remember and be guided by the fact that in spite of everything we are told, Charles Darwin remained as courteous and respectful to those who retained religious beliefs as he was to fellow agnostics. That is an example to be followed.
Finally, in considering the celebrations of this bicentenary year, we should also consider the legacy and look to the future. Much is known about 5 per cent of the universe, which leaves the challenge of the remaining 95 per cent. The Large Hadron Collider project in Geneva may give us some of the information and some of the answers on this. It may even give us more information on the Higgs particle, the so-called God particle. The important thing is that there should be people who question and people who are prepared to do the necessary research. Who will be the next genius to follow in Darwin’s footsteps? Are we doing enough to encourage young people to take an interest? I believe that this debate and the many celebrations of the Charles Darwin’s great achievements help us to move things forward.
This has been an absorbing subject on which to prepare for a debate. I have learnt a huge amount in doing so, and I look forward to learning more from the many distinguished participants in today’s debate.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing this extraordinarily interesting debate. It is topical not only because it celebrates Darwin’s bicentenary but in other ways to which I shall draw your Lordships’ attention. As the noble Baroness explained, Darwin made a wonderful discovery and his scientific principle is full of depth and subtlety—other noble Lords will be able to explain the science far better than I can—but it is also a powerful idea that when removed from the subtlety of science to the bluntness of politics becomes a pretty blunt political instrument.
There are no special ethics for science. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, science deals with the “how”, so it does not need its own ethical system. It is when you move on to the “therefore” and what follows the science that ethics and morality enter the equation. Because there is no special morality attached to how nature works, unscrupulous people extend the absence of the need for special ethics to the “therefore” and to what follows.
That was used to justify slavery and colonialism by Europeans. If only the fittest survive, there is no point in helping the less fit or the feeble-minded to survive, argued Malthus. If Darwin is right, why not use eugenics to breed better humans and to help natural selection along? It is to the great credit of this Parliament that a Bill to that end was talked out in 1912. Not so in the United States. There, the Supreme Court agreed that it was legal to use sterilisation by force to strengthen the US breeding stock. As we know, those ideas reached a climax in Germany with the ideas of the master race and the elimination of the Untermenschen. All that was justified by Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest and the use of Darwin’s theory as a means to view other people as fundamentally inferior and not like us.
Sadly, those ideas are still around. Only last week, my noble friend Lord Layard, writing in the Financial Times about the need for a fairer and less competitive form of capitalism, stated:
“We do not need a society based on Darwinian competition between individuals”.
Fortunately, our parents and grandparents understood that Darwin’s theories are more subtle and less violent. That we are all equal was understood and celebrated in 1945 with the declaration of fundamental rights at the United Nations, repeated and reinforced by the charter of human rights that each member of the European Union must sign up to.
We have to be very careful about applying Darwin’s theories to the human race. As many scientists have pointed out, adaptation in nature is through genetic change, but it is through co-operation that most human societies have been successful. There has been a lot of talk about adaptation and survival in the face of climate change: yes, adaptation through co-operation and survival by not polluting our environment and destroying our resource base, which might imply shared interest in the rather subtle Darwinian way, all in the spirit that we are one species.
We may be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. Remember all those millions who have suffered by the application of Darwinian theory to the human race in the past. No to that. Adaptation and preservation in climate change are right for moral and ethical reasons and for survival reasons: the ethics and morals of doing good. Darwinian science will help to teach us how to do it; morals and ethics will teach us why we should do it. We confuse the two at our peril.
My Lords, the biggest temptation in this debate today will be to look back only in a historical sense at the great achievements of Charles Darwin, to glorify his scientific research and evaluate his achievements. However, on occasions such as this, we must look forward with optimism and inspire a new generation of young scientists. Who better as a role model than Darwin to take them forward?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, is to be congratulated on enabling this debate to take place today, and for the way that she introduced that great man's contribution to society. Her contribution is a model of how best to celebrate the life of Darwin.
Charles Darwin ignited a revolution not just in biology, but also in society, as part of the wave of science, progress and optimism that pervaded Victorian Britain. The public appetite for the natural sciences was seen in packed lecture halls. Editions of Darwin’s The Origin of Species sold out rapidly not just in the halls of learning but in railway stations.
The year 2009 gives us the opportunity to celebrate the life and work of Charles Darwin, perhaps one of the most significant scientists ever, and not just for his work on natural selection. He was also a great botanist and geologist—arguably the father of ecology and biodiversity studies. We celebrate his bicentenary at a time when British society needs its scientists more than ever and needs the public to understand the scientific process not blindly but with informed trust in the people who carry out scientific research on our behalf. It is because of that need that I hope the 2009 celebrations—and, importantly, the legacy of those celebrations—will become an inspiration for young men and women throughout the country to embrace science as the Victorians did: as a fundamental of basic literacy and an integral part of their intellectual lives.
For my part, I would like every comprehensive school in the country to be presented with a bust of Charles Darwin and a selection of books, Voyage of the Beagle and perhaps Fossils, Finches and Fuegians by Richard Darwin Keynes, so that interested pupils can be inspired by Charles Darwin’s open-mindedness and determination—remember that he suffered appallingly from seasickness, yet stuck out five years on HMS “Beagle”—and the sheer adventure of discovery.
That brings me to the question of a legacy for the 2009 celebrations and the importance of engaging young people in science education. Lectures and exhibitions have taken place. It was a real mission this year to fascinate young minds. It was when Darwin set foot on HMS “Beagle” that the intellectual journey began that led to his writing, somewhere in the Pacific in 1835, that if his observations of the variation among Galapagos mockingbird species was borne out, that would “undermine the stability of species”. How appropriate that his “Eureka!” moment came at the age of 26 on a British survey ship.
The message of Darwin needs to be transferred to a new generation. I must declare an interest in the HMS Beagle Trust. I have no direct financial interest in the trust. Neither, I believe, does my fellow trustee, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, who very much regrets that he cannot be here today. Present here is David Lort-Phillips of Pembrokeshire, a descendant of one of the leading crew of the original HMS “Beagle”. He has undertaken tremendous preparation work for the trust, as has Peter McGrath, a tall-ship skipper and youth trainer from Whitby. It is their enthusiasm that has inspired this address. My interest is in science education and exploration. As the son of a master mariner, inevitably I am fascinated by this project.
It is important that I inform those here today of the basis of the Beagle Trust project. The plan is to build a replica of HMS “Beagle” during the current years of celebration of Darwin’s bicentenary. Once built, the new ship will retrace the circumnavigation of 1831 to 1836, which was made under the command of Robert FitzRoy and carried aboard a young Charles Darwin on a journey that he called the most important event of his life.
The new “Beagle” will host modern scientific research, and scientists will be paired with teachers and students to address important questions of evolution, biodiversity and climate change. A charismatic international flagship for science, she will be used to promote wider public engagement and learning programmes. It is planned that the boat will be constructed in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, and space has been provided by the port authority. The cost, estimated on plans prepared by one of the world’s most respected classic shipbuilders and riggers for a sailing square rigger with lines and rigging based on the HMS “Beagle” of 1831, is £5 million.
The lead scientific programme will involve DNA bar-coding and environmental metagenomics to detect and identify new species of marine life, working in collaboration with astronauts aboard the international space station to produce ground-truth space imagery of oceanic phenomena, and hosting individual peer-reviewed research projects proposed by leading scientists both ashore and afloat. The plan is also to put young people into this situation so that they can benefit from scientific research on the spot in the areas which Darwin actually visited.
The rebuilt “Beagle” will provide a 20-year legacy for the Darwin celebrations, and people will become interested in science, as Darwin did, in a memorable experience aboard a tall ship. The project has enormous potential, and the “Beagle” project already has a partner in NASA in the States, which has signed an international space Act agreement for the project to work with the crew of the new “Beagle” on observing and sampling the little understood oceanic phenomena. British school children will be able to talk to the crew of the new “Beagle” and, through them, to astronauts on the international space station. I hope that the Minister for Science might find it worth a word of congratulation to a small educational charity in Pembrokeshire, which has entered into a formal agreement with what is arguably the most famous scientific body in the world.
This project has the potential to remember Darwin and to inspire a new generation, and I ask the Government to help to support this project positively. It is a route to promoting our scientific and maritime inheritance while providing a beacon for the youth of the 21st century.
My Lords, our thanks and congratulations are due to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on bringing this subject into the public domain and on introducing it with her usual clarity. The debate clearly has many dimensions; we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, on the politics of the issue, which was very revealing, and from the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, on the science education aspect, which is equally important. I also notice that three bishops are going to speak. They will no doubt discuss the theological dispute that arises around Darwin. I propose to concentrate on the Galapagos Islands and the problems facing Ecuador, in whose territory they lie
My interest in this whole subject started at school, where my term coincided with that of two Darwin brothers, Erasmus and Philip, one younger and one older. Both are the great-grandchildren of Charles Darwin, and both are strong supporters of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, which has done such noble work in this field. During my long association with Latin America, I have always sought the right opportunity to visit the islands, and despite the fact that I had already been around the continent for 35 years or more, I did not finally get there until 1990. I must say that, once visited, they are never to be forgotten. It was, and should remain, an earthly paradise.
Since 1990, the visitor and resident populations have grown enormously. Visitor numbers have grown from 40,000 in 1990 to 140,000 in 2006, and to 170,000-plus last year. Obviously, Ecuador benefits enormously from tourism on the mainland, particularly in the mountains; the area around Quito, with its volcanoes, is beautiful and fascinating to visit. Ecuador not only has mountains and coastline but runs into the Amazon jungle, so it is very diverse country that definitely benefits from tourism. Tourism has, however, affected the archipelago, and the Government of Ecuador now recognise that the Galapagos Islands are at risk and have made serious efforts to address the problems. I will say more about that later.
I do not have precise figures for the increase in the population, but I know that it has risen by a percentage similar to the increase in visitor numbers. Here the problem is quite different; an increase in the number of residents means an increase in the need for services, and new residents demand concessions from which they can derive income, such building new hotels and bringing in more people. The overall risk is further exacerbated.
Another related problem is the introduction of new species of both plants and insects. The numbers have risen from 112 in 1990 to more than 1,300 today. That figure includes 490 introduced insects such as red ants and dengue mosquitoes, to mention but two. This is a very serious problem for the Ecuadorian Government, who are trying to reconcile the Galapagos islands as a World Heritage Site, as they have just been designated, with the current socio-economic situation on the islands, which is rapidly becoming unsustainable. The good news, however, is that the Government of Ecuador recognise this and are consulting sensibly with the Charles Darwin Foundation, which is located on the islands and does very valuable work, and with representatives of the Galapagos Conservation Trust. I have a feeling, and I very much hope that this is the case, that this debate, which has covered and will cover a wide range of issues, will help those who are wrestling with this very complex issue.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for sponsoring this debate and for her enthusiastic introduction to it. I have never had the privilege of going to South America as she and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, have, but I share the more domestic excitement of a visit to Down House and the way in which it expresses the relationship between the personal and the scientific which one feels there. I am thinking particularly of Darwin’s ability to think outside the conventional tramlines of his era. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, referred to open-mindedness. That is right, but it is so much more than that. This was an ability in Darwin to think outside the conventions of his time, to be open to new truth where he discovered it, and then not to be frightened of exploring it.
In that context, I will concentrate on two areas of danger. One is historical, although with contemporary implications that will echo something of what the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, has said. The other is more recent. That means we must have a reservation, not in our assessment of Darwin, but of the way in which his legacy has been used. I hope that the Government in general will encourage our heritage organisations, including English Heritage and the National Trust, to share that questioning of our heroes, which was so often a part of their own thinking as well as their intellectual qualities.
First, we need to acknowledge the association of natural selection with some of the darker philosophies of the last century. Evolution does not always lead to a sense of dependence on the natural order, but sometimes to an arrogant claim to be its pinnacle and to look for a way of improving that pinnacle still further. Evolution was often at the heart of Edwardian liberalism—the sense that western humanity was on the verge of conquering sickness and evil, and that the spread of civilisation around the world was the natural conclusion of natural selection. I would like to say that we know far better now; I am not always sure that we do.
These theories were drawn upon not only, as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said, by some of Hitler’s theoreticians, but also by Marxists exploring the benefit and inevitability of the class war, and by imperialists. All of them were visionaries, but they were without the humility to recognise our dependence on others rather than our superiority to them. At its worst, such an interpretation of evolution could lead to Francis Galton’s eugenics and the desire to breed better human beings in the way that we might want more productive beef cattle or cleverer sheepdogs. We still fail to recognise often our dependence on creation—I would say God’s creation—and our responsibility for it, which is at the heart of the Genesis story and so challenges the often feeble environmentalism of our present culture, which is there in theory but put aside when something more urgent arises.
Secondly, I want to draw attention to the ways in which scientific evolutionary advance has sometimes tempted people to a view of humanity as free and individualistic, with choice as the ultimate prize to be seized. We ignore our dependency on one another. Malcolm Brown, a colleague of this Bench as director of mission and public affairs for the Church of England, spoke recently of his part in a seminar last November at the Natural History Museum’s celebratory exhibition. The theme was science and faith. The response of the young, articulate audience was that science had destroyed faith. It interpreted faith as social authoritarianism, often violent, demonising of others and in denial about empirical knowledge.
Those of us who are Christians need to hear that travesty of faith, for we are sometimes responsible for its promulgation and its perpetuation, but all of us need to be careful. That version of Christianity flies in the face of the New Testament where Jesus uses and celebrates the scientific observation of his own day in order to demonstrate human dependence. We need to recognise ourselves as in Alasdair MacIntyre’s phrase—dependent, rational animals. We are marked by relationship and not by autonomy. We are uniquely able to reason and to have an important commonality with the rest of sentient creation. We do not have a free choice which has somehow outgrown our dependence on one another.
The danger of a celebration of Darwinism is that evolution can become a new absolutism, which ignores Darwin’s own caution and his own exploration, for example, of blind alleys and his own courtesy, to which the noble Baroness referred in her introduction. Evolution can be suborned to try to answer ethical questions and it can still give us a false sense of our own ability to solve the deep issues of the world without recognising our dependency on it—the world itself—and on one another. I hope that we shall use the excitement of Darwin’s contribution to our understanding so as to focus on our relational world and our responsibility for the welfare of the whole creation and, specifically within it, all our fellow human beings.
My Lords, I sometimes think that those who draw up the list of speakers for debates such as this have a remarkable sense of humour. I find myself, as president of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, speaking between two Bishops and I cannot help feeling that that is, to some extent, intentional. This morning, a booklet arrived on my desk, entitled, Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain Today. I only wish that I had had time to read it before standing up in your Lordships’ House. I hope to do so later.
I want to look at the subject from a particular standpoint; namely, how Origin of Species was regarded by contemporary, educated society and how the theory was refined, even modified, under the influence of some of Darwin’s critics. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, talked about the packed halls at lectures, which is certainly true. Among those critics was my great-grandfather, Professor Fleeming Jenkin FRS, the first professor of engineering in Edinburgh. I am encouraged to take this perhaps rather self-centred step by some of the recent scientific and broadcasting events as part of the celebrations, to which my noble friend’s excellent debate draws attention. They have drawn attention to Jenkin’s critique, which was published in 1867 in the North British Review and which, I have to say, the noble Lord, Lord May, has told me always figures in his lectures about Darwin.
I start by hoping that, a few weeks ago, other noble Lords watched, as I did, a remarkable BBC Four television programme called “What Darwin Didn’t Know” by Professor Armand Leroi, professor of evolutionary development biology at Imperial College. It has been repeated and I have no doubt that it will be repeated again, as it deserves to be. The things that Darwin didn’t know included, among other things, the age of the earth. Could the slow process of evolution possibly have happened in the short time then believed to be the age of the earth? No one knew anything about nuclear power and could not explain therefore the heat of the sun. They did not know even the basic laws of inheritance: they knew nothing about chromosomes, genes and so on. There was much else besides. Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord May, tried to explain to me how the Darwinian view of inheritance works and he left me behind at the first equation.
Professor Jenkin was among a number of critics who pointed to the holes in Darwin’s original theory—holes which he and they were unable to explain. Thus, Jenkin had drawn attention to one of Darwin’s major problems; that is, how to establish geological time. He had to prove that the earth was sufficiently old to accommodate the slow process of evolution. But it did not stop there. Darwin’s efforts to ascertain a framework within which evolution could be fitted opened a much wider debate, which was to expose—if I may put it this way—a chasm between methods and understanding in natural sciences, compared with those in mathematics and physics, which had hitherto been the basis of that research. That is an example of how the criticisms helped to develop the theory.
On the mechanisms of evolution, my great-grandfather argued that single variations could not survive being blended back into a general population which lacked that distinguished feature. Thus if you had one white father and perhaps a series of black wives, all living in a black tribe, the whites would not survive more than a generation or two. Of course we now know that that is entirely wrong. But it is interesting that Darwin took these criticisms extremely seriously. He said:
he, too, got my name wrong and put an “s” on the end—
“has given me much trouble, but has been of more real use to me than any other essay or review”.
After that he wrote:
“Fleming Jenkyn’s arguments have convinced me”.
Darwin was convinced enough to make significant revisions to the fifth edition of the Origin of Species.
Darwin was persuaded to turn his attention to geological time and, in due course, helped William Thomson—later Lord Kelvin, a Member of this House—PG Tait and others to establish that the universe was much older than had been believed at the time, so answering the arguments that it could not have happened. It was left to Mendel to discover the basic laws of inheritance and to subsequent generations of scientists to discover how they worked.
From this, I draw three observations. First, in our Science and Society report, which I chaired about nine years ago, we argued that people need to understand better the scientific method: a theory is just that—an explanation of the evidence, which can be modified and displaced if further evidence emerges which casts doubt on the original theory. Darwin’s critics and Darwin himself, and the open-minded exchange of views which followed the publication of the Origin of Species, to which reference has been made by a number of speakers in the debate, are excellent examples of this. In the course of time, a theory becomes so well supported, as the theory of evolution now is, by all the evidence that it becomes incontrovertible. But it remains a theory, and the public need to understand that better.
Secondly, my great-grandfather has been accused by some people of being among the religious dogmatists who challenged Darwin because it contradicted the biblical revelations—the right reverend Prelate has already referred to this—but they cannot have read the correspondence between my great-grandfather and Charles Darwin. That correspondence is in the Cambridge University library and I have told my granddaughter, who is now reading biology at Cambridge, that she has got to read it. Any polemicist must lack all credibility unless he or she can demonstrate some knowledge of what the target of his attack has actually said. I have made this extremely clear to the producers of a programme by Professor Richard Dawkins, which has yet to appear. My great-grandfather’s criticisms were wholly scientific.
I return, thirdly, to my opening words in which I referred to the booklet Rescuing Darwin: God and Evolution in Britain Today. We have been accustomed to humanists, secularists and atheists arguing with increasing vehemence that Darwin’s theory of evolution has destroyed any basis for a belief in God. This is what has given rise to the belief in creationism and intelligent design as attempts to reconcile faith with what is now widely accepted as the science. It is important to recognise that although, quite rightly, as my noble friend Lady Hooper said, Darwin described himself as an agnostic, he also said:
“It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist … I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God”.
My noble friend described him, quite properly, as an agnostic. Today, there are many distinguished scientists who entirely accept as sound science the theory of evolution and who are also active believers in God.
Let me end with a word about my great-grandfather. He summed this up extremely well in his life. He said:
“I cannot conceive that any single proposition whatever in religion is true in the scientific sense; and yet all the while I think the religious view of the world is the most true view”.
I subscribe to that view four generations later.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on introducing this debate. There is a story that a group of scientists decided that there was no longer any need for God and picked one of their number to go and tell him so. The appointed scientist walked up to God and said, “We have decided that we no longer need you. We have reached a point where we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just shuffle off quietly?”. God, being a reasonable sort and used to rejection, responded, “Well, before I go, can we have one more human building contest?”. The scientist replied, “Okay. Great”. But God added, “We will do it like in the old days with Adam and Eve”. The scientist replied, “Sure, no problem”, and bent down to pick up a handful of earth. As he did so, God tapped him on the shoulder and said, “No, no, no. Find your own earth”.
The debate over Darwin’s Origin of Species and the creation accounts in Genesis, I dare to suggest, is one based on all sides on false premises. It is obvious that the accounts of creation in the beginning of the Bible were not written from the outlook of modern science. These accounts, or stories, do not tell us about the starting point of human evolution, neither are they essays in biology or any other natural science. They do not explain the formation of the stars; neither do they explain the elements of earth, fire and water. They form a poem not a treatise.
Several of these stories of creation, along with the stories of Genesis such as the murder by Cain of Abel, the building of the tower of Babel, the flood and Noah’s ark, speak about something universal that is true of humanity at all kinds of different times. Adam and Eve represent humanity; Cain represents all murderers; boats represent places of salvation from the chaos of life; and the tower of Babel exposes the vanity of human beings and the confusion of language. But at the centre of this raft of stories lie two things. First, that in the beginning there was nothing and, in Hebrew thought, what gives way to nothingness to become something is word—“and God said”. Secondly, in Hebrew thought, the meaning of life is that everything comes from God and goes back to God, but is sustained by the relationship with God.
Darwin’s Origin of Species—a scientific thesis about which it is easy, like in most things, to produce soundbites that do not tell the whole story—was a significant contribution within its time. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has pointed out the limits of the research available to him for understanding how life developed and was formed. Like the physicists and evolutionary biologists of today, he was primarily interested in understanding the mechanisms by which the world and life came about and how they continue to function.
When I was a schoolteacher, rather more years ago now than I care to remember, my good atheist biologist colleague and I would have considerable fun joining in debate with our respective classes on God versus Darwin. Surprisingly, we agreed on a number of things: first, that there was no inherent contradiction in faith in God and the evolutionary development of the cosmos; secondly, that scientific study, as well as faith in God, leads to a sense of mystery, mystery in turn leads to inquiry, and inquiry to wonder; and, thirdly, we agreed that mystery and wonder lead appropriately to humility, and to respect for the intricacy, complexity and detail of that which is being created. Finally, we agreed that it led us to questioning that went beyond the “when” and the “how” to the “why”, particularly with regard to humanity’s role in the order of things either to exploit, control and destroy or to seek equality, refrain from oppression and to ensure justice and peace in society.
I am something of an amateur astronomer. Even the most casual watcher of the stars is quickly transported into wonder. Watch the stars with the naked eye, and you can see about 4,500. If you have an ordinary pair of binoculars you will see about 45,000. If you have a small telescope, however, as I have, some 70 sextillion—that is, 70 thousand million million million—become available to you. The Crab nebula in the galaxy of Capricorn first exploded its light to be seen on the earth in 1054. Although less bright today, that same nebula continues to expand at an astonishing rate of 7 million miles per day.
The universe is both old and new. It is not something simply past; it is something that is in being—in creation. Such statistics reveal us as a little lost planet revolving around one star among billions in a constantly expanding universe, making any belief that we have any significance in the scheme of things apparently absurd and pretentious. However, as we have heard several times today, Darwin’s research into the development of species did not lead him to belief or disbelief in God. It led him to wonder, and so it should lead us. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, talked about the “Beagle” experiment and the link with NASA, which I visited recently. What an enormous adventure lies before us in the exploration of an expanding universe, out of time and in time.
If we attempt to see the biblical accounts of creation as alternatives to scientific theories, we condemn ourselves to disappointment. The authors of Genesis concerned themselves with the linking of a people’s history and its God to humanity and the universe as a whole. They wished to confess their faith that God was truly universal, deeply involved in the existence and fate of everything. They sought a blueprint for right living. They set out to lead a life of harmony with reality.
The perilous state of our planet, and the risk of significant depletion of humanity due to the impact of global warming on sea levels and deserts, requires a resetting of the moral compass towards the mystery of creation, coupling it with wonder, respect and a wisdom that addresses the role of human beings as presented in the Bible, to use their gifts of intelligence and creativity to make the universe a place fit for all human, animal, bird and plant life to live in. As my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds has remarked, it is regrettable, to say the least, that in both religion and science the potential for good can so easily be turned to destructiveness and manipulation. I am sorry, I have lost my place. I was on cracking form until then.
The celebration of Darwin’s bicentenary would be deeply enriched by a common commitment to cosmic peace. For those of us who believe that in the end everything both comes from and goes back to God, that can be our contribution; for those whose integrity does not let them make that step, then our common journey must be one of wonder, respect for mystery and a commitment to the welfare of the planet and its future. If that were to happen, this celebration would be truly valuable for the future of humanity.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on an imaginative choice of subject for our debate, and what an extraordinarily interesting debate we are having. The subject has brought out an unusual and lengthy list of speakers, containing three bishops—I follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells with some trepidation—and a kinsman of one of Darwin’s closest friends, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. On the other hand, we are rather light on speakers from our own distinguished scientists in this House.
For my part, I have no real qualification to be speaking on Darwin—I am not a scientist, still less a biologist—but the development of scientific ideas and their interaction with society interests me. To some extent I shall be echoing what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said in his remarkable speech. The development of science against the background of 19th-century development is fascinating. There can be no question that Origin of Species is one of the great landmarks of the 19th century.
I want to talk about how Darwin and his book fit into the first half of that century. In short, one asks oneself where he was coming from, what he was building on, and whether the publication of Origin of Species 100 years ago, almost to the month, came out of the blue. It is fair to say that On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection did not come out of the blue. Indeed, Wallace, who had arrived at similar conclusions, mainly as a result of his work in the Far East, had implored Darwin to get on with it and publish. He had the altruism to realise that the sheer depth and weight of Darwin’s researches and thinking were superior to his own. We should remember this extraordinary act of altruism today, an act that, in our own era of competitive research, research assessment exercises and so on, is surely quite inconceivable. Let us remember Wallace.
The defining time in Darwin’s life was clearly the five years of the “Beagle” voyage between 1831 and 1836. He was in his 20s and in need of direction. He had no real training in field science, but turned out to be an outstanding field scientist. He was interested in just about everything. He was an acute, accurate and insatiable observer, whether it was the different beaks of goldfinches in the Galapagos, his ideas on the geomorphology of the development of coral reefs in the Pacific—on that, he was pretty well spot on—or his ideas on the effect on the geology of Patagonia and the Andes of earthquakes and the huge movement of land surfaces. He was a meticulous recorder.
To go back to Origin of Species, the salient point of natural selection is that it takes a huge amount of time. Developing the many millions of species that our planet is endowed with today takes thousands of millions of years. We have no problem with that today; we accept it. In Darwin’s day, though, it was a concept that our fathers were only just beginning to be comfortable with. It is fascinating to reflect that as late as the 17th century the highly distinguished, erudite and respected scholar Archbishop Ussher, a renowned authority, established with great thoroughness that our world was created by God on the evening of 23 October 4004 BC. We now find that rather funny, but the fact is that it was serious, authoritative and a generally accepted date. A hundred years later its acceptance was beginning to get a bit wobbly. My main point is that it was the development of geology, the understanding of stratigraphy, the tracing of fossil developments through the analysis of strata and the sciences of palaeontology and taxonomy that created the space in time, the thousands of millions of years, for species development to take place. In Darwin’s time, the two key people—two great geologists—were Hutton and Lyell; their dates were approximately 1800 and 1830. It is nice to have the kinsman of Sir Charles Lyell speaking here later this afternoon. What other Parliament can say that? It seems a great pity that we do not have a Darwin in the House, but there we are. There are plenty of them still around and they would be a great addition.
I continue with two quotations from Sir Keith Thomas’s splendid book Man and the Natural World, which puts this period of the early 19th century into a very correct perspective from a distinguished historian. He says:
“Only at the very end of the eighteenth century did pre-historic archaeologists begin to realize that the story of human development might be infinitely longer than had previously been appreciated. Between 1820 and 1840 the geologists vastly extended the supposed age of the earth, while the study of fossils and cave bones established that man had lived as far back as quaternary times. This new temporal framework made it much easier to accept the evolutionary theories of Lamarck and Darwin”.
As time is getting on I think I will skip my next quotation.
That is the pedestal on which Darwin built his great work. The fact that it was controversial is beside the point. It was some time, for example, before Lyell accepted the full flavour of Darwinism. There was, of course, the fascinating interchange between the predecessor of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, in his previous capacity as Bishop of Oxford. In 1860, at the famous meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at Oxford, the bishop good-humouredly speculated whether his antagonist, Huxley, the distinguished scientist and supporter of Darwin, was descended from an ape on his mother’s side or his father’s side. Huxley retorted that either way he would much prefer to be descended from an ape than a bishop. Not a very generous remark, but he was very much an agnostic.
Controversial or not, there is surely no question that the Origin of Species was one of the great milestones of 19th century science, to be placed alongside the discoveries and work of Faraday and Clerk Maxwell in the fields of electricity and electromagnetism. Nevertheless, in the field of biology we should not forget the massive contribution later in the century of the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, whose experiments in garden pea breeding led to his formulating the basic principles of heredity. He established the notion of genes and recognised that genes obey simple statistical laws—today a basic principle of biology.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, with his description of Charles Darwin’s meticulous observations and record-keeping. That is the theme that I would like to follow. How do we inculcate in the modern generation, particularly pupils at primary schools, secondary schools and through into universities, this great ability for observation and deduction therefrom?
I declare an interest as chairman of the trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I want to concentrate on Darwin’s contribution to plant sciences, but I must first thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving us this great opportunity to explore, as so many people in the House today have done from different directions, the relevance and contribution that Darwin can make to some of the overarching issues with which we grapple.
Although Darwin wrote more books on plants than on anything else, he did not in fact consider himself a botanist. He was really very modest about this. His first major work had been on barnacle taxonomy, and his early enthusiasm as a child had been studying beetles and much else on his field walks. He felt comfortable in zoology and, of course, geology but he did not have an equivalent training in botany. He tended to defer to the director of Kew at the time, Joseph Hooker, on plant matters. In his will he left money to Kew to compile an index to the names and authorities of all known flowering plants and their countries. That was a heroically ambitious concept, which has not been completed today. He left £250 a year for five years. Not unnaturally, an official from a government department, a forerunner of Defra, asked the obvious question: what is going to happen when the money runs out? Well, the Government and now international Governments have picked up the tab. It is a project which, it appears, will at last be coming to fruition, in 2010. As signatories of the Convention on Biological Diversity, we have enshrined in that targets, with the deadline of 2010, of the global strategy for plant conservation. Kew is very proud to have a leading role in this, and it now looks realistic to say that this checklist will appear next year.
Darwin wanted this list for purely scientific purposes, but it is now internationally recognised as critical for practical conservation purposes. After all, you cannot produce local conservation plans unless you know what is there in the first place that you are trying to conserve, and whether these plants are common or rare locally, nationally or regionally. You then need to understand to what extent individual species are dependent on each other and what role they play in determining the prevalence of other species.
Darwin’s 200th anniversary this year and the global strategy for plant conservation deadline next year have proved excellent opportunities to draw public interest in the key role that plants play in making life possible on this planet, and demonstrating how living organisms have evolved on a basis of mutual interdependence. The current concern—a topical one—of the decline of the honeybee population, and the implications for food production, is just one example of our rather belatedly recognising what was blindingly obvious to Darwin: that one depends on the other.
Next year is also the 250th anniversary of the Royal Society, and I declare an interest as a fellow. As the world’s oldest science academy, its anniversary will provide another platform to increase public involvement in science and it will build on the momentum of Darwin’s bicentenary celebrations. The Royal Society is planning a full programme of events to promote the scientific ideas, questions and issues of the 21st century among new audiences, following up the work of my noble friend Lord Jenkin on the Science and Society report, which he mentioned in his fascinating speech.
Darwin’s insight made him a genius but his methods of observation and collection of data were simply robust, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, said. He was methodical and very thorough. These are methods which are accessible to children. My noble friend Lady Hooper asked whether we are doing enough to interest young children. Throughout this week, all 23,000 maintained primary and special schools in the country are receiving a treasure chest from Kew containing everything needed to take part in the Great Plant Hunt. This is funded by the Wellcome Trust and will encourage primary school children to follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin. Pupils aged five to 11 will be taught to explore habitats and grow plans; they will also have the opportunity to collect seeds and send them to Kew’s millennium seed bank at Wakehurst Place. I believe that this is a truly inspired initiative by the Wellcome Trust and I pay tribute to my colleagues at Kew, who have contributed so much of the material for teachers. I pay tribute also to the chairman of Royal Mail, Allan Leighton, who has arranged for the chests—23,000 of them—to be delivered free by Parcelforce, so a round of applause for Royal Mail from me.
Schools are responding enthusiastically as they receive their chests. The programme has been rolled out just this week—Sir David Attenborough delivered the first chest—and one can already see results coming up on the Great Plant Hunt website. So here is a really exciting project. It has been pitched at children of absolutely the right age to capture their enthusiasm. It was, after all, Darwin’s peregrinations in the countryside, finding beetles and things, which gave him his lasting interest in natural history. I hope—and think there is a very good chance of it—that the Great Plant Hunt will inspire another Charles Darwin of a future generation.
I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, speak about the rebuild of HMS “Beagle” for scientific research and educational purposes. We are talking about a different, older generation here. A square rig with satellite communication—it sounds a bit of a contradiction—will enable links to laboratories and classrooms around the world. It will be an enormously helpful opportunity for an older age group to engage in the kind of science that Darwin was doing himself.
Darwin still has the ability to inspire pupils and students to participate in the collection of data about life on this planet. From this, we will develop a better understanding of the interdependence of species. As we are the most destructive of all species, we should learn how to put in place local, national and international initiatives which protect our fragile ecosystems. It was Darwin who made us realise that all species are related. From this stems an appreciation of how critically important it is for us and future generations to understand the constraints under which we should manage our lives. We deplete our natural resources and degrade the diversity of life at our peril.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating this debate. I also apologise to her and other noble Lords for not being in my place at the beginning. I shall read her remarks in Hansard with great interest.
Like other noble Lords, I have had the privilege of visiting the Galapagos Islands; indeed, I did so with the good companionship of the noble Lord, Lord Powell, who is sitting in front of me. Like everyone else who goes to the Galapagos, I was simply enthralled.
Charles Darwin was in his mid-20s when he visited the islands as a scientific officer on the “Beagle”. Remarkably, he was there for but a month, but he did not, however, just look on in wonder. Rather, he collected specimens and information and immediately took note of the striking differences between similar species in different habitats, whether the giant turtles or the “perfect gradation in the beaks of the different species” of finch. Darwin’s powers of observation proved simply extraordinary.
Back home, he ruminated on and continued to observe nature, and he conceived a theory. He thought the unthinkable: that the world was not created in seven days; that species, as his fellow scientists at the time believed, were not fixed in time. He then spent decades systematically collecting evidence from fossils, animal breeders and horticulturalists to help to support and to refine that theory. The readable and accessible masterwork he then produced, 150 years ago this year, proved to be the foundation of much of modern science and was a vital step in explaining the development of life on earth.
Darwin, as other noble Lords have suggested, was a great British genius, who sits in our pantheon alongside Shakespeare and Newton. Science since his time has moved forward in leaps and bounds. Genetics has unravelled the double helix, and mapped the commonalities and differences between species. Fossil finds have supplied the missing links. Geology has explained the development of that molten, encrusted volcanic ball, uniquely stabilised by its moon: the earth itself. We now understand that, long after Big Bang, yet still an unimaginable 3 billion years ago, a laval inferno deep under the sea, perhaps the result of tectonic plates colliding, fused, in a freak chemical accident, some core elements into microscopic cells, and began the process of life itself.
Darwin helped explain how millions of tiny incremental variations since, over tens, hundreds or even thousands of millions of years, could eventually combine to produce a dazzling myriad of ever-more complex and capable species, migrating from sea to land to air—350,000 species of beetle alone. Darwin helped us to understand the single tree of life, with humankind a twig at the end of a branch, a relatively recent arrival among earth’s species.
Darwin ushered in the era of rationalism. His bequest is to help us understand that we are not set aside to have dominion over all nature, as I was taught at my Catholic school, but rather that we are but one part of nature’s infinitely complex web.
If Darwin would have approved of our growing respect for nature, he would surely have been disappointed by the slow march of rationalism—here I strike a slightly dissonant note from other speakers. Fewer people now may believe in the supernatural and life after death, but some still take solace in cults or homeopathy. Some defy science and embrace creationism and intelligent design. Many still cling to the comforts of the old religions, which sought to explain existence before science did. Darwin might well be surprised that Britain still has a state religion, hardwired into our constitution.
Every species is special in some way because it has survived. We cannot fly like a bird or run like a cheetah. Rather, our evolutionary inheritance is our unique power to understand and to affect the world. We increasingly appreciate that it is in our own self-interest as a species not to overwhelm the earth and its multitude of plants and creatures but to strive to maintain harmony with it.
The challenge for humanists and for other children of Darwin is to create a world based on respect both for nature and for each other, a world where science and evidence displace prejudice and bigotry, a world based on ethical values which aim to maximise the sum total of human happiness here on earth. The most celebratory and life-enhancing funeral that I have ever attended was conducted by humanists, but the movement is not yet woven into our social tapestry.
One of the most intellectually thrilling experiences that I have had for many years was an evening last autumn at the University of London where young comedians, mostly scientists, offered deadly and arresting critiques of modern events and mores. I felt that I had glimpsed a better, more rational future. But, in truth, the rationalist movement as yet lacks its own powerful institutions to promulgate the voice of reason. When they do exist, and one day they will, Charles Robert Darwin should be their patron.
My Lords, first, I congratulate my good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on this very timely debate.
The two greatest alumni of my Cambridge college—Christ’s College—which celebrated its 500th birthday four years ago, were Milton and Darwin. The quinquennial lecture was given by Professor Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel laureate and one of the world’s most distinguished biologists, in particular on ways in which cells divide, which affects everything from embryo genesis to cancer.
John Milton studied at Christ’s from 1625 to 1629, and Charles Darwin from 1828 to 1831. The professor explored their contrasting views on how the living world, including humankind, came into being, focusing on Milton’s rendering of the Genesis account of creation in his epic poem Paradise Lost, published in 1667 and Darwin’s Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, published two centuries later in 1859 and 1871. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells reminded me for some reason of a Cambridge graffito which I rather liked; someone had written on a wall, “God is dead”—but, underneath it, someone else had written, “No, God isn’t dead—he’s alive and well but working on a less ambitious project”.
Listening to Professor Nurse’s lecture, I was struck by the similarity of the poetry of Darwinism and that of Paradise Lost. That magisterial work, published seven years after the restoration—a difficult time for Milton, as he had been one of Cromwell’s Secretaries of State—redramatises the idea of Satan’s rebellion against God and the fall of Adam and Eve, the Genesis account of creation, including the origin of life. He includes his own cosmology with a description of the structure of the universe. One of the points made by Nurse, which I shall put in my own terms, is that one can see that the poetry and aetiology of Darwin was rather similar, because Darwin could not throw much light on why the universe exists. “What sort of question is that? It is not a scientific one”, I think he once remarked. He made a similar remark about the nature of infinity or going on for ever. He certainly did not believe in any sort of Armageddon, any more than did Milton—so that is a bit of a red herring.
Milton begins as follows—and I shall quote a few lines of Paradise Lost, which are:
“And God said, Let the waters generate
Reptile with spawn abundant, living soul
And let fowl fly above the Earth, with wings …
Forthwith the sounds and seas, each creek and bay,
With fry innumerable swarm, and shoals
Of fish that with their fins, and shining scales,
Glide under the green wave”.
No sign of evolution there, so I shall go forward to Darwin and the survival of the fittest, natural selection and so on.
Darwin’s friendship with Charles Babbage, the inventor of the calculator, who argued that God was a divine programmer, pre-ordaining life by natural law rather than by ad hoc miracles, may have influenced his later view of natural selection, which could be viewed as one of God’s natural laws. In other words, God set the rules of evolution and then took the rest of the day off. That is a key point in the comparison, because the same point arises with what we would now call the Big Bang. Incidentally, that now seems to be the view of the present Pope, who wants to bring reason into the centre of theology. He does not believe, and nor do Milton or Darwin, that the Almighty could take a red London bus out of a London traffic jam on Oxford Street and suddenly turn it into an aeroplane—and nor do any of us in this Chamber. I think many of us would call ourselves tentative Christian Darwinians or tentative Darwinian Christians. It comes to more or less the same thing.
Incidentally, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds hinted at, the study of aetiology, the purposes and origins of the universe, is still the most fruitful way in which the Abrahamic religions—Christianity, Judaism and Islam—can talk among themselves and to other religions such as Hinduism, as well as to agnostics, as I suppose Darwin could be classified and did classify himself. Agnosticism is clearly not the same as atheism, but no atheists would disagree with the agnostic doctrine or assert that there is scientific evidence about why the universe exists. It is not the sort of question that could be determined by an atheist.
Darwin’s central theory can be divided into two parts: first, that living things evolve over millions of years, and species gradually change with older ones dying out and new ones appearing. The fossil record has many examples of species that no longer exist. As a corollary of this, nature red in tooth and claw has unfortunate consequences for those who want to preserve all species. The history of the universe does not suggest that one can necessarily preserve all species; on the contrary, it is very clear that one cannot. It has never been so, and it is hard to think that it ever will be.
The second main principle, the refinement called natural selection—those selected being ones with greater survival value, summarised by the phrase “the survival of the fittest”, coined by Herbert Spencer—sets out that because of the results of inheritance, any selected variant will propagate preferentially. Again, in parenthesis, if Darwin were alive today he would have to address the same arguments that the rest of us have about carbon dioxide and the unsustainable growth of human population. He would, one is sure, strongly urge the Vatican, for example, to have more respect for humanity and the planet at the same time, in my humble opinion, by changing its absurd policy on contraception. But that is another story.
As I understand it, with the science of DNA, minor mistakes in genetic copying generate variant progeny, which opens up natural selection. Nurse concludes that we now have to consider what science is and whether it can provide satisfactory explanations of all aspects of creation. Einstein did not think so, but the assumption that the rules of science are immutable in time and space is itself open to debate, as witness Einstein’s astonishing leaps of imagination. So we continue to have difficulty as human beings in comprehending phenomena at the extremes of our experience, and science involves difficult and non-intuitive concepts such as quantum theory, relativity, infinity and eternity. It continues to be very difficult to think about how the universe came about; if it has existed for ever, we have to imagine infinite time, which is a difficult concept. But if it came from nothing, we have to imagine nothingness giving rise to something with or without an agent, which is also a difficult concept.
Both science and religion have not fared well in making great claims about origins, but Milton and Darwin overwhelmingly have in common the commitment to the pursuit of truth. This phrase of Milton’s is very close to the scientific principle. I conclude, if I may be forgiven, with a few lines from Origin of Species. It says:
“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved”.
Noble Lords will agree that this account of evolution from Darwin has some of the beauty of Milton’s poetry in Paradise Lost.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for this very timely debate. No one can read the Origin of Species without being struck first and foremost by the massive integrity and honesty of Darwin. He always admits where he does not think that the evidence is yet totally compelling, particularly the finding of fossils of intermediates. He says that he wants to face the strongest case against his own theory. He is no polemicist simply trying to win an argument for its own sake. He is always modest and courteous. But he had this deep and justified conviction that the evidence that he had accumulated over the years provided a basis for a theory of a vast explanatory power. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was quite right to emphasise that it was a theory. It has been modified since then and no doubt it will be modified in the future. Nevertheless, it is a theory of vast explanatory power that has shaped the outlook on life of everyone here in the Chamber this afternoon.
Darwin was not alone in believing in evolution or natural selection but, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, explained so well and so rightly, what he brought to it in a way that no one else did was his painstaking, persevering observation—not just in the Galapagos, as we know, but mainly in this country. There was year after year of very careful and accurate observation that provided a sound scientific basis for his theory. Above all, I want to celebrate Darwin as a wonderful model of good scientific method. I have been privileged in recent years to work with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. As a result, I have worked with some of the leading life scientists in the country. I have come to have huge respect for people working on the cutting edge of science who show the same truthful, honest, persevering approach to the work as Darwin.
Einstein once referred to the miracle—his word—that the universe was intelligible. To inject a theological note into the debate at this stage, this intelligibility of the universe, which is not invented by us but is discovered and explored by us, has its basis in the fact that there is an ultimate intelligibility behind it—what the great religions of the world call the divine wisdom, the divine word or divine rationality in and through all things. It is that approach reflected in trying to grasp the truth of things that I want to celebrate in Darwin and elsewhere. Another aspect of his integrity is that he never claimed more for science than science could yield. As has already been quoted, only three years before his death he said that it was quite absurd that you could not be what he termed an ardent theist and at the same time be an evolutionist. It is true that he gradually lost his faith: it was gradually undermined by his experience of suffering in life, particularly the death of his most beloved daughter. He probably did die an agnostic.
Historians of science note how very quickly the theory of evolution was accepted by the Christian public in Britain in the 19th century. At the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford in 1860, the preacher was Frederick Temple, later to become Archbishop of Canterbury. He said that God created over a long period of time through secondary processes and through natural causes. Darwin himself was buried in Westminster Abbey to the great pleasure of the Church. Among the committee raising money for his monument were the two archbishops and the Bishop of London.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, quoted that famous story about the debate between Wilberforce and a previous Bishop of Oxford. I have to say with some sadness that that story was put out by Huxley some 40 years after the event and that actually nobody quite heard what went on. A great deal of research has gone into that meeting and what has been discovered reveals something rather different from that wonderful story. It is a pity that some of the best stories are not true, but we are in the business of truth this afternoon so I have to say that.
I had the pleasure on the actual anniversary of Darwin's birth to debate with the latter-day Huxley in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and a very good occasion it was. I had to say to him then, as I have had to say to him so many times before, “My dear Richard, there are so many good arguments against religion. Don't keep dragging science into it”, but some people seem to remain unconvinced. Richard Dawkins and I have worked together, as we all need to do in order to get proper science taught in schools, particularly in the area of creation. It is worrying how many people in our society are still sceptical about the theory of evolution. Theos, which recently conducted a survey on this, found that 25 per cent of the population actively disbelieve the theory of evolution and a further 25 per cent are sceptical of it. There is clearly a massive amount of educational work to be done. Some of this hostility to the theory of evolution comes from people who read their Scriptures in a rather literal way, whether they are Muslims or Christians or perhaps even Jews. This has to be faced in a patient and persevering way, trying to put forward the best scientific evidence.
Of course, if some of the fair number of young people who take this point of view raise questions in class, those questions must be addressed. When Professor Bob Reese, who was the education officer for the Royal Society, said that of course evolution must be taught in schools, but if pupils raise a question from a creationist point of view it must be answered, he spoke for every single teacher in the country. I leave it at that.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, drew attention to the fact that you cannot derive an ethical viewpoint from your scientific work, which was echoed by others; the basis of your ethics must be derived from elsewhere. However, it is interesting that we are in a different position on ethics from Darwin and his contemporaries in one respect. We now know that co-operation plays a significant role in the evolution of species. Nature is not just red in tooth and claw but also involves co-operating within a particular organism and between organisms. Sometimes reciprocal altruism, as with bees and flowers, is part of the process of evolution. Even apart from that, however, we need to derive the basis of our ethical, as well as religious, view from elsewhere.
Finally, I celebrate Darwin as a wonderful model of good scientific method. Like other noble Lords, I hope that we will continue to produce scientists with the same characteristics that he showed, and that science with those characteristics will be taught to the children in our schools.
My Lords, I rise with humility this afternoon to thank my noble friend Lady Hooper. I shall concentrate my remarks, which I hope will be brief and to the point, on the tremendous relationship between my ancestor, my great-great-great-uncle, Charles Lyell, and Darwin. They had their first meeting fairly early on, and certainly much was discussed in 1836. My first meeting with my noble friend Lady Hooper was October 1985, under a wonderful blue banner with the motto, “Nil satis nisi optimum”; I can explain the precise details and relevance of that to the noble Lord the Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard later.
I declare my interest as the great-great-great-nephew of Sir Charles, which was mentioned so kindly by my noble friend Lady Hooper and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. Sir Charles went on to become the first professor of geology at King’s College, London—not, I humbly suggest to the right reverend Prelates, without some opposition from the ecclesiastical establishment. Never mind, he was a tough Angus lad, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cullen, can attest, and stuck to his ground.
Declaring my interests as a non-geologist and a non-scientist, I convey my humble thanks to Professor Leonard Wilson, Professor Gordon Craig and Dr Nowell Donovan, all of whom have kept my brief thoughts and remarks on the relevant path.
On October 2 1836, the “Beagle”—referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey—dropped anchor at Falmouth. In four days, Darwin had reached Shrewsbury. On 28 October, the “Beagle” had reached Greenwich and Darwin was able to unpack all the specimens that he had gathered on his remarkable tour of the world. Thankfully, he was already in touch in with my ancestor, Charles Lyell, and had continually declared that he was very grateful, and interested, among his other enormous interests, in geology. In December 1836, he was discussing the elevation of the landmass of South America with Charles Lyell. Indeed, I understand that he celebrated the New Year of 1837 by having a particularly good dinner, so he said, with the Lyells.
From my studies of Charles Darwin’s tour down the coast of South America, he had paid particular attention to the coast of Chile and had noticed the elevations, the structure and strata of the rocks and landscape there. He understood that the entire landmass of Chile and South America had risen something in the region of what we call “two feet”—I am not too sure what that is in metres; I do not know if my noble friend Lord Lamont will advise me. This was thanks to two massive earthquakes, one in 1822 and another in 1835. The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, who is not in his place, has advised me that the hamlet of Concepción was virtually eliminated by the colossal earthquake of 1835. Charles Darwin visited the site within a month of the earthquake occurring and noticed the elevation of the strata. He pointed out to my ancestor, Charles Lyell, the recently uplifted sea bottom and shell beds on the Atlantic coast. On the cliffs of Argentina, which stretch some 400 to 500 miles, Darwin noticed deposits that were of enormous interest to him and Charles Lyell. I understand that Lyell and Darwin admired each other enormously. Indeed, Charles Lyell pointed out that he was immensely grateful for Darwin’s confirmation of his theories on the uplift of land masses, of those below the sea, and on subsidence. Darwin expressed enormous gratitude to Charles Lyell for the principles of geology set out in the second or third edition of his work—certainly, he was reading the first edition as he undertook his tour—which helped him to interpret the geological aspect of his studies in South America.
Both Lyell and Darwin had a great deal to say about coral reefs in the Pacific. I do not have a science O-level but I have attempted to dabble in my distinguished ancestor’s records and in some of his letters. Therefore, I shall spare your Lordships my thoughts on the structure of coral and how it might affect the subsidence and elevation of the Pacific sea bed. Perhaps I, my noble friend Lady Hooper and other noble Lords might wish to undertake exploratory voyages to study that phenomenon. Some noble Lords might still be speaking when we got back; one would not know. I shall leave the study of Pacific corals to the specialists and to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, who will speak next.
As I say, Darwin expressed enormous gratitude to Sir Charles Lyell. I conclude my O-level remarks on science, let alone on the records of Charles Darwin, by citing a wonderful letter written by his wife, Emma Wedgwood. They held their first dinner party on 1 April 1839. Emma wrote to her sister saying that the entire evening was something of an ordeal. First, Dr Fitton was late—I do not know why she was worried about that—then Mr Brown, a distinguished biologist, was so shy that it seemed to Emma that he would shrink and disappear entirely into himself. Emma went on to say that Mr Lyell was quite enough to flatten a dinner party and that he never spoke above his breath. Certainly, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, who is to speak after me, will know that I try to speak up, but that other speakers will compensate for any deficiency in that regard. As regards the other guests at this wonderful dinner party, Emma records that Mrs Henslow had a good, loud, sharp voice and that Mrs Lyell, my great-great-great aunt, had a constant supply of talk. Perhaps that characteristic has descended down the blood line.
I am immensely grateful to Charles Lyell’s guru, Professor Leonard Wilson, for pointing out that Darwin’s friendship with Lyell was not greatly encouraged after the former’s marriage. In Charles Darwin’s biography, edited by his granddaughter, Darwin is quoted as saying,
“I saw more of Lyell than of any other man both before and after my marriage”.
Therefore, it seems that bridges could be built. It is an enormous privilege for me to mention my great-great-great uncle’s name in your Lordships' House today. Above all, I am immensely grateful to my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving us the opportunity to celebrate the bicentenary of a particularly distinguished man, who was linked to my great-great-great uncle.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for introducing this debate and for giving us the chance to celebrate the memory of Charles Darwin. I declare an interest; my wife is a Darwin scholar much involved in the publications and conferences going on this year, including at Christ’s College, Cambridge. More personally, the Royal Irish Academy this year held an important meeting to celebrate Darwin. That is important because, while the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, is right to say that religion in England adapted quickly to Darwin’s work, that was not quite so true in Ireland. In the 19th century, probably of all the cities, the one that took the most violent attitude towards Darwin’s work was probably Dublin. It is remarkable to see the way in which it was uncontroversially celebrated this year in the Royal Irish Academy.
Darwinism is now a crucial part of modern biological science. It has stood the test of time; like all good scientific theories, it has survived a serious interrogation of its basic ideas and emerged stronger for it. We should remember the time at the turn of the last century when the theory of natural selection looked weak, and even some of those who were sympathetic to it had their serious doubts, because of a feeling that the modern science of genetics and Darwin’s theory were irreconcilable. This proved to be a short period. By the 1920s, the theory of natural selection was relatively well integrated into the new genetic theory.
Much of the 19th and early 20th century speculation about human nature and society that drew on Darwin’s name, often without close attention to the specifics of his theory, is now dead. But on the other hand, it is certainly true that we have seen a revival of social Darwinism. In the past 20 to 30 years, there has been a remarkable rebirth of attempts—not all successful—to incorporate Darwin’s insights into the human sciences. So the very least that can be said today is that some of the problems, dilemmas and questions which Darwinism prompted in the Victorian mind have now returned.
At this point, it is useful to draw attention to the role played by the co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection—Alfred Russel Wallace, whose generosity the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has already referred to. It was Wallace’s paper sent to Darwin on the species question in 1858 from the Malay Archipelago which so resembled Darwin’s own work on the question and caused him great unease. It prompted Darwin’s friends to encourage him to lay his ideas before the scientific community in 1858, when papers by both Darwin and Wallace were presented before the Linnean Society of London. A year later, Origin of Species was published.
Wallace was Darwin’s junior; he was much less well known in science and he was making his own way from a much less privileged background and earning a living, which in Darwin’s case was not a necessity. Wallace was a follower of the socialist Robert Owen, an advocate of land nationalisation in the 1870s and 1880s and, up to his death in 1913, a strong advocate of the rights of trades unions and the working class. The priority of Darwin—whose theories were by 1844 pretty well worked out, though revealed only to a limited circle—is uncontested. Darwin also conceded to Wallace, if not priority, equality as far as the development of natural selection theory was concerned.
Wallace worked in the tradition of the self-taught artisan and working-class scientific endeavour of the early part of the 19th century, and Darwin in the tradition of the gentleman amateur. Both traditions have been eclipsed by modern science, yet in fact both men played a crucial role in the development of modern science. The key player here was Thomas Henry Huxley, whose brutality in debate has already been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. That brutality and pugnaciousness were central to Huxley’s role as a propagandist of what is our modern concept of science and its role in our society.
Huxley argued not just for the empiric understanding of the world to create new scientists in our education system, but also that our education system should attempt to impart to all citizens a questioning, critical attitude towards all aspects of life. For Huxley, scientific education and research were the clue to national economic progress, and therefore it was an important function of government both to encourage education and to fund research. Huxley also helped to lay the foundation for the development of the modern university, transforming it into a secular institution in which scientific education and the scientific degree and research training played a key role.
From our vantage point in history, we are, as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, mentioned, more sceptical about science as the means by which all moral, economic and political problems can be overcome. We now think that the worst aspects of scientism served, for a while at least, as a new form of religious belief which had some of the dogmatic qualities of the conventional ones. We are aware of the deep intractability of some of the moral issues raised. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, mentioned particularly the often nasty and brutal history of eugenics in the 20th century. Let us not forget in this context how Darwin’s remark in a letter to Galton in 1870, if we listen to it carefully—remember what noble Lords have said about how observant Darwin was—cuts the ground from much of the nasty aspects of 20th century eugenics. Darwin casually observed to Galton, who I do not think particularly wanted to hear this message, that,
“excepting fools, men did not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard work”.
Of all Darwin’s many quiet wisdoms, that is one that we should respect, especially when the discussion of eugenics is under focus.
Darwinism remains a contested idea, and a great deal of reflection and debate is still needed about its meaning in the human sphere. However, its international importance cannot be denied. The idea was read avidly by the Chinese intelligentsia in the late 19th century as the key to understanding the means by which China could escape western domination and, in spite of a recent incident in Turkey, was seriously engaged with by many thinkers in the Muslim world; the idea has influenced the great novelists from Russia to England and social theorists from America to Italy.
When we talk about politics, we have to remember one thing. There is a perfectly legitimate conservative social Darwinist tradition, but there is also an equally well documented liberal social Darwinist tradition, and even a socialist Darwinist tradition, in politics. Again, they are well documented, and distinguished figures have been involved. Indeed, there is even an anarchist Darwinian tradition in politics. The reduction of Darwin to one particular conservative social Darwinist message does not reflect the reality and complexity of our history. Darwinism, therefore, still has an enormous claim on our attention.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for introducing a rich and fascinating debate. I have learnt much from it. The title it was given was,
“to call attention to the celebrations of the bicentenary of Charles Darwin”.
Although mention has been made of them, I should say how great the various exhibitions and celebrations are. Whether it is the huge exhibition at the Natural History Museum, which merits nearly a day’s visit, or some of the smaller exhibitions at local galleries and museums, it seems that everyone is trying to come in on the celebrations—and rightly so.
I have been enormously impressed by the breadth of coverage. Perhaps I should also mention the coverage on the BBC, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. If ever one is looking for public service broadcasting at its best, one should see some of the programmes that have been or are about to be shown on the BBC. We benefit in this modern age because, if you cannot get to an exhibition or if you miss the BBC programme, you can go to a website where you can see much of the exhibition and commentary on it, and if, for that matter, you miss a programme, the BBC iPlayer enables you to see it. We benefit enormously, there is so much there to be seen and rightly we should call attention to these celebrations.
I should like to call attention to the programme that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, mentioned. I refer to the project at Kew Gardens, sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, to provide materials to schools to develop their understanding of the theory and processes of evolution. As the noble Earl mentioned, every primary school—23,000 of them—is receiving a treasure box which mirrors the one that Darwin took on the “Beagle”. There was a presentation about this in the Jubilee Room last week. The box contains a plant press, magnifiers, a plant identikit, a mini seed bank and all kinds of experiments that the children can do. They are all encouraged not only to do these experiments but to participate in the great plant hunt. I believe that, among other things, this will provide Kew with the best collection of daisy seeds possessed by any country. All primary school children are being encouraged to collect the seeds and to send them to Kew. We shall see what emerges from that and how many species of daisy can be derived.
For secondary schools, the Wellcome Trust is sending round “Survival Rivals”. This is a set of kits based on insects, bacteria and so on, and the children are encouraged to have a look at the whole process—to see hands-on, if you like, evolution taking place.
Both sets of experiments, at primary and secondary levels, are encouraging students actively to participate with hands-on experiments, which is so important in motivating young people to get involved in science. These days, science lessons are too often about watching videos or watching someone else do the experiments rather than doing them yourself. Indeed, the great plant hunt project, in part, encourages children to go out on “thinking walks”. I thought about this when the noble Lord, Lord Lea, talked about the damp banks that came from the Origin of Species. In formulating his theories of evolution, Darwin went on thinking walks around Down House. With no laboratory, he used the grounds of his home to devise experiments and test his ideas. Therefore, the children are not only gaining knowledge about plants and the world around them but learning the importance of the systematic collection and collation of materials, and the detailed observation of changes over time. They are learning about the importance of drawing conclusions from those observations, which are the basis for theories, and then subjecting those theories to testing, retesting and discussion by others, which is precisely what Darwin did in developing his ideas. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells said, it is about introducing children to the common journey of wonder and mystery.
One of the books that I was given over Christmas and read with great pleasure was called The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. It is about the contemporaries, and to some extent the predecessors, of Darwin—people such as Joseph Banks and Herschel. I thought that The Age of Wonder was a very good name for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, mentioned the importance of scientific method which came down to us from Darwin—of systematic collection, detailed observation, drawing conclusions from those observations on which to base theory, and testing those theories. Those form the basis of scientific method, and adherence to the strict tenets of that methodology has stood British science in good stead over two centuries. We are rightly proud of our achievements in science. Our Ministers boast of how we are second only to the United States in our contributions to world science, punching well above our weight in terms of highly cited scientific publications. Our universities and scientific institutions are sought after by the foremost young scientists in this world. It is interesting that in the past three weeks there have been three important speeches on science policy. The first was by the Minister for science, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson; the second was by the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, Mr Denham; and the third was by the Prime Minister himself.
The thrust of those three speeches was to question whether we have the current allocation of science funding appropriate to the challenge of meeting the recession. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, raised the issue of whether the Government needed to focus on certain areas more than others to increase the economic impact of the research base. It is not the place or the time to go into these issues, but I hope that some day we may induce the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, to come before the Chamber and debate science policy. To date, he has not answered one Question or one debate relating to his department.
In the year of the Darwin bicentenary it is worth emphasising one of the central tenets of scientific research and method. By definition research is about experimentation. If we undertake experiments, almost by definition we do not know what the outcome will be. Increasingly the Government are putting pressure on scientists to identify when putting forward project proposals what the economic impact will be. Yet, how can we know what that economic impact will be until we have completed the experiment? If the Government seek too rigidly to support science only when we can identify significant economic impacts, there is a very real danger that we will take up only low-risk projects that are well tried and tested, and for which we know the results, rather than the new creative ideas that come from the long patient process, as with Darwin, of collection, observation and being allowed to think outside the box. That is very important.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper on initiating this splendid debate. It has been so revealing that several noble Lords have such distinguished ancestors associated with Darwin, including my noble friends Lord Jenkin of Roding and Lord Lyell, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, but more of that anon.
Several noble Lords have rightly dealt fully with Darwin’s unique and outstanding contribution to science and his very careful and humble construction of his theory of evolution. I should like to deal mainly with the man, his family and Down House. My interest in Charles Darwin began when Sir Hedley Atkins, my chief at Guy’s Hospital, took charge and lived in Down House in Downe, Kent. He took over this splendid old house which was very much in need of repairs; the ground floor was overrun with chickens. He raised a great deal of money, including fees from his private surgical practice, to transform the house and extensive gardens into a most attractive place. He lived on the top floor with his family while the ground floor was the Darwin Museum, which could not have had a more enthusiastic curator than Sir Hedley.
The village of Downe spelt with an “e” at the end was originally spelt without an “e” but in the early 19th century it was changed to its present spelling. It was said by some that it was to avoid confusion with County Down in Ireland. Darwin and his family did not approve of the change and continued with the original spelling.
Darwin was born in 1809 in Shrewsbury and when he was eight his mother died and he was looked after by his three elder sisters. At school his unusual interest in chemistry earned him the nickname “Gas”. As his father considered that his 16 year-old son was spending too much time shooting game, he sent him to Edinburgh to study medicine, but he left after two years having seen, and been horrified by, a child having an operation without an anaesthetic. He then studied theology at Cambridge, where he secured tenth place in the bachelor of arts degree in 1831. Shortly after, he sailed on the “Beagle” and the five-year voyage of hardship was the making of him. As has been mentioned, he was unfortunately plagued by intolerable sea-sickness, but nausea was also a problem on land, according to his autobiography. Darwin wrote:
“I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me”.
Although it has been suggested that the Galapagos Islands clinched his great theory, that was probably not the case. Having visited the Galapagos Islands, I fully agree with the enthusiasm of noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, for those wonderful islands, but I was pleased not to have experienced Darwin's finding that the islands were “frying hot”.
Darwin was immensely wealthy. While he was still in his 30s, he had £80,000 of investments and two large farms in Lincolnshire and in the 1880s, he bought thousands of pounds’ worth of railway shares, so working for nothing on the five-year expedition was not exactly a problem.
His evolutionary theories were also bound up with his botanical work, which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth. He conducted thousands of crossings to prove that cross-pollinated plants produce better offspring than those that self-pollinate. He had a vested interest in the subject of inbreeding as he had married his cousin from the Wedgwood family. Indeed, he agonised over the possible harmful effects on his children. As it transpired, he need not have worried too much as three of his sons were knighted for important contributions to science: George in astronomy, Francis in botany and Horace in civil engineering. His grandfather was Erasmus Darwin, the polymath physician, poet, philosopher and inventor, and, as has already been mentioned, his cousin was Sir Francis Galton, who was the founder of the science of eugenics. The Darwin and Wedgwood genes were clearly of high quality, and their descendents have continued to show great distinction.
He was always making lists, and before marrying, he made two lists of the pros and cons of marriage. Emma, who became his wife, was a devoted and loving soul, but she was not very keen on her husband’s work. During the course of one of his lectures, he turned to her and said, “I'm afraid this must be very wearisome to you”. She politely replied, “Not more than all the rest”.
He moved into Down House in 1862, where he worked for 20 years on his theories and perfected his books. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned, his thinking walks were a marked feature around Down House. In the 1860s, Down House was described as an infirmary run by his wife because he suffered ill-health and once vomited every day for a month, which left him emaciated. He suffered from poor health for a large part of his life, and there have been many theories to explain this, including Chagas disease, which is prevalent in South America.
In spite of Emma's devotion and care for him, he considered women inferior, and that view extended to ethnic minorities, although he supported the abolition of slavery. Darwin was,
“immersed in a competitive Whig culture, and enshrining its values in his science, he had no time for socialism”.
While I am on the subject of Whigs, he became friends with his neighbours Sir John Lubbock and his son, also called Sir John, who was the grandfather of our own Lord Avebury.
Among his achievements, he introduced four bank holidays, which for many years were known as St Lubbock days. When I first met the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, 30 years ago, I suggested to him that we ought to revert to the original name of St Lubbock days. Especially we should do so today in view of the recent behaviour of the banks.
Sir John worshipped in the church in Downe Village until the vicar preached a rather uncharitable sermon attacking Darwin's theories. He then transferred his allegiance to Farnborough Church, where he was later buried.
As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, mentioned, Darwin was devastated by the death of his oldest daughter with typhoid in 1851. That seriously affected his faith, which was not exactly helped by subsequent opposition to his work from some parts of the religious world. In 1869, Professor Huxley was at a party in the house of John Knowles in Clapham Common where he coined the term agnostic, which he took from St Paul's reference to the Greek altar to an unknown God. He denied that he was an atheist, but he exhorted all men to know how little they knew and said that the origin of all things must be unknown and unknowable.
Darwin himself was not anti-Christian, but had problems with several doctrines, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, mentioned. I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding and his great-grandfather, Professor Fleeming Jenkin, said about Darwinism and Christianity.
Charles Darwin rarely ventured out in public, but he was visited by a philosopher from Harvard called John Fiske, who went to see him in Down House. He described him as,
“the dearest sweetest old grandpa that ever was”.
Prime Minister Gladstone visited Charles at Down House for several hours. When he left, Charles said:
“What an honour that such a great man should come to visit me!”.
Charles Darwin was one of our greatest scientists, a charming, courteous and honest gentleman.
My Lords, it is customary from this Dispatch Box to thank the originator of the debate, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for producing an occasion that we will all recall with a great deal of pleasure, given the diversity of viewpoints that have been expressed and the celebration of such a significant man as Charles Darwin. I congratulate her through slightly gritted teeth. The House will appreciate that it is quite difficult to give a government view from the Dispatch Box on the nature of the perspectives that have been revealed in this debate. After all, this Government do not do God, but we do not do atheism or agnosticism either—no Government ever do. Governments seek to be representative of the breadth of opinion and viewpoints in our country. Inevitably, the collision over such fundamentals as have been raised in the debate makes the position of the government spokesman in response somewhat challenging.
So the House will forgive me if I elide some of those points and concentrate on some of the slightly more prosaic and a little less intellectual ones, while at the same time very much appreciating that we could not have had this debate today—certainly not in the House where the Bench of Bishops is well represented, or while we have such significant contributors as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, expressing a different viewpoint—without recognising that Darwin raised fundamental issues about beliefs in society, a debate that continues to the present day.
I can do nothing else but express thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Livsey and Lord Chorley, for mentioning Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy. He was the original headhunter, after all, who commissioned Darwin as the naturalist on the “Beagle”. FitzRoy, of course, became the founder of meteorological science. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, who cannot be here today—he is at a conference in California on climate change and expressed his regret—would never have forgiven me if I had not mentioned FitzRoy in the context of a debate on Charles Darwin. I am very grateful for the fact that I can mention not only the contribution made by Vice-Admiral FitzRoy but the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Livsey and Lord Chorley, for having mentioned him earlier. The debate is testimony to the fact that Charles Darwin is one of the most influential Britons of all time, and perhaps the most important natural historian of all. In celebrating his bicentenary this year, we will also be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species, so this is a very important and felicitous year.
It is clear that Darwin saw that every living thing was related, that everything shares an ancestry, and that the vast diversity of life on earth results from processes that have been at work for millions of years and that are still at work today. Darwin’s explanation of this great unfolding of life through time—the theory of evolution by natural selection—transformed our understanding of the living world, much as the other great scientists whom we salute, such as Galileo, Newton and Einstein, have revolutionised our understanding of the physical universe.
On natural selection and change, I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Haskel for indicating that social Darwinism can produce from Darwin’s basic concepts a distorted perspective on social developments. One of the supreme ironies of those who took this position to the most absurd, pretentious and catastrophic consequences, namely Nazism, took a concept from the concept of change and yet boasted that they would create a 1,000-year Reich—a contradiction of the way in which Darwin expressed evolution. That merely indicates how dangerous it can be when fundamental scientific concepts, which must be understood and thought about carefully, are crudely distorted by those who propagandise on the basis of a limited understanding, or by those who have full understanding but who are prepared to distort.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for his perspective on this and for pointing out that there are other derivations of social Darwinism which are totally removed from social fascism. There is, for instance, liberal Darwinism. That goes to show how careful we have to be when we translate carefully worked out thoughts. It was pointed out that Darwin expressed positions into which he entered noted reservations. Of course we celebrate his definition of change—it is his theory that makes him the great scientist that he is and why we are celebrating him today in this debate—but he also entered caveats into his careful understanding of the debate that were contained within his theories. The problem that we have had with certain aspects of the social translation of these ideas is that it has been done crudely without such caveats and without understanding the subtleties and the reservations, and has turned the ideas into propaganda rather than any form of scientific theory.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for starting the process, which was followed fully by other noble Lords, of emphasising how important Darwin was as an exponent of scientific method and of careful analysis of what he was doing. The other great theme that came through the debate—a number of noble Lords, including the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, took this up—was the need to be concerned about the extent to which our society is scientifically educated and the necessity to appreciate that, without a clear grounding in scientific method, our society will not be well educated. There is a great deal of work to be done. How important that work might be was alluded to by several noble Lords and reference was made to how much the fundamental concepts of Darwin have percolated society.
In a Theos report, as has been quoted today, the percentage of people in the United Kingdom who believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution is so well established that it is beyond reasonable doubt is a minority—I repeat, a minority. This is 150 years after the promulgation of the thesis. If our scientific understanding is such that such a crucial concept still has not permeated among the vast majority of our people, we have reason to be concerned about aspects of science education. In a few moments, I want to emphasis that the Government are using this felicitous year to extend our concentration on the work that should be done in schools.
Darwin is a Briton and we claim great pride in his achievements, but we should not be under the illusion that this year of celebration is merely a UK phenomenon. Australia is holding a year-long evolution festival to celebrate Darwin’s anniversaries. Vancouver in Canada has had a celebration. Milan celebrated Darwin Day in February to kick off a nationwide series of events dedicated to evolution and Philadelphia in the United States is celebrating a city-wide Year of Evolution.
In the UK, as has been reflected in the debate, a wide range of organisations across England, Wales and Scotland have collaborated under the brand name Darwin200 to produce a national programme of events to celebrate the legacy and enduring relevance of Charles Darwin’s work. The partnership includes more than 120 organisations from across the arts, education, heritage, local government, libraries, media, museums, science and tourism sectors, including the Natural History Museum—as all of us would expect— VisitBritain, the BBC, the British Council, Research Councils UK, the University of Cambridge, the Royal Society and the Fitzwilliam Museum. They are all making their contribution to celebrating this year.
None of that work gets done without financial support or funding. The Darwin200 secretariat’s work to ensure that this year is marked appropriately has received financial support from the Natural History Museum, the British Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Reference was made to the position of Wales. The noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord Chorley, mentioned Alfred Russell Wallace, the Welshman who was key to the development of evolutionary theory. It was a letter from Wallace, as was indicated in contributions, who independently arrived at the theory of evolution by natural selection, which finally prompted Darwin to share his work with the world. I cannot think of anything more significant than that. We should therefore appreciate that in Wales, too, there is considerable celebration of this anniversary. I had not known that. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for bringing to the House’s attention the fact that there is a celebration in the Irish Republic, too, against a background where 150 or so years ago it would not have been anticipated as a likely development.
I am grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who provided the House with an intense insight into Darwin’s life. I am pleased that he mentioned Shrewsbury because, after all, that was Darwin’s birthplace and where he was brought up, and the small, modest but exceedingly attractive museum in the town bears testimony to this. Shrewsbury, therefore, also has pride of place in this celebration.
There are of course places even more famous than Shrewsbury. I anticipated, but was grateful for, the contributions of both the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. They emphasised the significance of the Galapagos and the work that has to be done there. I am pleased to bring to the House’s attention the fact that, as part of this celebratory year, the Gulbenkian Foundation is funding a three-year residency programme which will enable up to 12 leading artists to spend time in the Galapagos archipelago. They will be able to engage with the Galapagos in their own way and to reflect on its unique nature, historic value and current importance, as well as on the human conservation challenges it faces.
There is no contradiction between the theory of evolution through natural selection and being concerned about conservation. There will not be much of a theory of natural selection unless we succeed in conserving the planet, which is certainly a major objective. That is also true of the mockingbird, to which the noble Baroness referred, and other species which are under threat. As human beings we should care about those species because, after all, Darwin was a celebrant of biodiversity and it would be very strange indeed if we took joy in the reduction of that diversity. I do not think there is anything about Charles Darwin and this anniversary that should detract us from our concerns about conservation.
Reference was made to the threats to certain species about which we ought to take a particular interest. We all know about the threat to the humble bee at the present time from disease, and we also know the potential catastrophic effect that could have on food production unless we are successful in protecting the species.
Government support for Darwin200 is provided by the DIUS and the programmes receive ministerial support from DCMS, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. A cross-ministerial government group has been working to make this year as successful as possible.
Although I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lea for bringing Milton into the debate—he is certainly a different figure from Darwin, although educated at the same college—not much reference was made to the extent to which Darwin has inspired many plays, books and films which celebrate his life, and many debates about the issues he raised. This is one of the features to be celebrated at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which will explore the influence of Darwin’s ideas and discoveries on the work of visual artists such Landseer, Turner, Degas, Monet and Cézanne. So there is a breadth to the celebrations this year beyond the science, although the science is of the greatest importance.
I want to mention the point that the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, graphically expressed, that the Great Plant Hunt gives us an opportunity to get young children, at primary school level as well as secondary, interested in the issues that Darwin identified, to go on nature walks in their school grounds, to explore habitats, to collect seeds, to grow plants and to explore the concept of the chest, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, identified. That is a most exciting project. There are 25,000 of these chests; the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, referred to that, and expressed his gratitude to the Post Office. We are similarly grateful. This is all part of the necessary public engagement with science. When we come to judge the effectiveness of this year of celebration, it will come down to the question of the extent to which we have enhanced scientific interest and education in our society and the true legacy of Darwin.
I want to mention an additional point from the Dispatch Box: the important aspect of government policy. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, in his description of Darwin’s life, described all that I need to do with regard to the significance of Down House in Bromley and its surrounding landscape. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport submitted a bid last month to UNESCO to confer world heritage status on Down House. The house is an outstanding aspect of Darwin’s life and, when we are successful with this bid, as we hope to be, it will have the enhanced guarantee of the nomenclature of the world heritage position. We look forward to that.
This has been an absorbing debate. I have not done justice to the debate between the right reverend Prelates, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, who engaged with the fundamental issue of the debate that took off in the 19th century on the nature of religion and the origins of the universe. I indicated, as did the noble and right reverend Lord in his contribution, that there is still an extraordinary degree of ignorance about the evolution of the species and in understanding the fundamental concept of Darwin. That part of the debate will continue in our society, but on an increasingly sophisticated level. We heard today the extent to which that debate can be engaged with to the advantage of us all, without the insults and the acrimony that distinguished it 150 years ago and which scarcely added to the enlightenment of the nation.
That, though, is a debate on which the Government probably ought to observe a dutiful silence; we all have our viewpoints, but hearing the Government’s view on the matter would not aid the position. I simply reflect that in this debate, despite the diverse opinions that have been expressed and the wide range of issues that have been raised, there has been one unifying factor: the debate celebrates the contribution of one of the greatest of all Britons and one of our greatest scientists. I thank the noble Baroness for giving us all a chance to participate today.
My Lords, I feel totally justified in having brought this Motion before your Lordships. It has been a serious, well informed and inspiring debate, and as I anticipated, I, for one, have learnt a great deal. I found it fascinating, in listening to every word from every speaker, is that there has been a refreshing lack of repetition. Each intervention has introduced a new theme or a different approach without much, or any, orchestration from me. I am glad to learn that we may have an ongoing debate on the role of science in the coming year when we celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Royal Society.
I am most grateful to all the noble Lords who have contributed so thoughtfully and informatively. I think it will make today’s Hansard a really good read. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, has been reassured that the work of the Galapagos Conservation Trust is not to contradict Darwin’s conclusions about the survival of the fittest, but to ensure that we humans do not upset the balance of nature and the process of natural evolution.
I have been greatly encouraged to hear what is being done for the future in terms of science education and especially about the Kew treasure chest, the Great Plant Hunt and the Beagle project. The Minister had a difficult task expressing a governmental rather than a personal viewpoint. However, the great list of activities that he referred to will enable anyone with the time and interest to pursue further the information gathering that has gone on this afternoon.
Once again, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to the celebrations of the bicentenary of the great Charles Darwin. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
House of Lords Bill [HL]
Committee (1st Day)
Moved by Lord Steel of Aikwood
That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.
My Lords, I would like to speak very briefly to the Motion that the House should go into Committee because I would like to bring to the House’s attention that I may have inadvertently misled it when I spoke at Second Reading.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, said in his speech:
“Some may say that the Bill is a device for delay, but that is not my noble friend’s”—
the noble Lord, Lord Steel—
“intention. Indeed, he voted for 100 per cent elected membership of this House and not for the 80 per cent compromise. So he is even more hardline than I am on that matter, and that is quite difficult”.—[Official Report, 27/2/09; col. 466.]
I took up this reprise at Second Reading, for which I may be embarrassed. I said that I had learnt a new fact in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was in fact in favour of an elected second Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, did not demur from that fact, and he is not doing so at the moment. However just a couple of years ago in the columns of the Guardian newspaper no less, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, wrote an article headlined:
“An elected upper house would cause huge divisions. Its members should all be appointed”.
When I discovered this, imagine my consternation and confusion that I might have led your Lordships to believe one thing about the noble Lord, Lord Steel, when the other was true. The article goes on:
“During my 12 years as leader of the Liberal party I regarded myself as hereditary keeper of the Asquith pledge to replace the House of Lords with a chamber constituted on a ‘popular basis’. Now that we face a new attempt to reform the upper house, it is time to stop and ponder whether we are proceeding in the right direction”.
The noble Lord rhapsodised on, with the enthusiasm of the newborn baptised, to extol the virtues of an all appointed House. If I am confused, I suggest that the House is confused—the noble Lord, Lord Steel, may be confused—but we need to set this matter right before we go into Committee because it lies at the heart of the debate that we shall have.
This morning noble Lords will have arrived in this House to find that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, was confused not only about whether he is in favour of an elected or an appointed House but also about the purpose of his Bill. This is the second or third time that we have debated the noble Lord’s Bill, and one would like to feel that he understood what his purpose was; but yesterday afternoon, when the noble Lord rose from his lunch or his slumbers or whatever it was, he cried, “Eureka!”. He rushed to the Printed Paper Office—it was almost the middle of the night by the time he got there—and laid a manuscript amendment because he thought that the House did not yet know the purpose of his Bill. When I came in this morning, I said that if we were going to discuss yet again the purpose of the Bill, because I thought that we had done that at Second Reading, it was only fair that I should seek to amend it, and I have myself put down a manuscript amendment.
I hope that I have not delayed the House, but I would very much like to know what on earth is in the noble Lord’s mind, not only in terms of his purpose clause but also whether he is in favour of an elected or an appointed House.
A1: Insert the following new Clause—
“PART A1PURPOSE OF THE ACTProvisions contained within the Act
The four purposes of this Act are—
(a) to establish a statutory Appointments Commission,(b) to end entry into the House of Lords of hereditary peers by byelection,(c) to enable peers to retire, and(d) to enable the House to exclude members from the House.”
I must first apologise if my voice does not carry as well as normally because I have a heavy cold. Since I had to make this speech, I could not resort to my usual, favourite Scottish medicine to chase it away. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, only that the salmon did not rise to fly. I am sorry; I am not going to be caught out on that issue.
My noble friend Lord Tyler was absolutely right. I can listen to debates in the House and be moved by them. When it came to the votes on the composition of the House, I voted against the mixed House, but I accepted that an elected House was probably the will of the House. However, the point that I want to make today in tabling the amendment is that we have moved on from the discussion about whether we have an appointed or an elected House. This amendment would unite those who are in favour of maintaining the House as it is and those who are in favour of an elected House. This can be done by accepting the four points in the amendment.
Amendment A1 is aptly named because it is a first-class amendment, supported by all four quarters of the Chamber. It is right that, before we get into the detail of 95 debatable amendments to the Bill, the Committee is provided with an opportunity—and this is a perfectly open and transparent device—to come to a specific view on whether it wants to see these measures brought into effect.
It is clear that there has been a major shift in opinion from our debate in the previous Session of Parliament to that of the other Friday, when we had 27 speeches in favour of the Bill and only five against. If the Committee carries the amendment, as I hope it will, it will be a clear signal to the Government either to take over the Bill and thereby introduce the four measures into the legislative programme or to introduce them into the constitutional renewal Bill, which we expect in the next few weeks. In either case, there would have to be a carry-over, but I think that we are all agreed, whatever our views on the merits of the Bill, that it would be far better conducted by the Government than by a private Member.
Therefore, perhaps I may spell out briefly again the four purposes of the Bill and remove any confusion in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. First, on the creation of a statutory Appointments Commission, we had the welcome support at Second Reading of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, the new chairman of the Appointments Commission, who is very strongly in favour of a statutory basis. We know that it was a pledge in the Labour election manifesto of 2001 that there should be a statutory Appointments Commission. We look forward to the Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who has the task of replying to this debate, telling us how much work has been done in Government since that manifesto commitment was made. We hope that some work has been done and that they will take over this section of the legislation, with their own views as to how the statutory Appointments Commission should work.
The second part involves an end to the by-elections for hereditary Peers. I am indebted to an academic who sent me an advance article to appear in next month’s Political Quarterly, which pointed out that we have experienced in this House the only election of a Member to the British Parliament in which the number of voters was exceeded by the number of candidates. There were 11 candidates and three voters in one election. As for the promise made in 1999 that the 92 hereditary Peers would remain until stage 2 of Lords reform, nothing was said at the time about what stage 2 would consist of. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who made the commitment as the Lord Chancellor at the time, regards the four proposals in this Bill as constituting stage 2 and therefore an acceptance of that promise. We are, in this Bill, being much kinder to the hereditary Peers than was envisaged in 1999. We are not saying that the 92 should disappear; we are saying simply that they should not be replenished and that, therefore, the hereditary Peers would become de facto life Peers, unable to be succeeded either by their heirs or by election of new Members. That seems a sensible provision in this day and age. It means an end to entry into this Parliament by heredity.
The third part enables Peers to retire. I think that we have all agreed that the House is too large, at more than 700, and that numbers should be reduced. Of course, there can be legitimate argument, under the amendments tabled, about whether there should be a fixed age limit, a fixed length of service or a mixture of the two, as they have in the Senate in Canada. I think that it is agreed that Members who never come should be taken off the list and that an effort should be made to reduce the size of the House. That is what the third part of the Bill allows for.
The fourth part enables the House of Lords to do what the House of Commons can do, which is to suspend or expel its Members. Even if those accused of wrongdoing at the present time turn out to be completely blameless, the fact is that the press coverage has exposed a weakness in our constitution that ought to be remedied. In fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, he accepted that at Second Reading.
In spite of the merits of these four proposals, there is still an attitude of “let’s do nothing until something more major happens”. I have two objections to that. First, what is the something major? We have the White Paper, which has never yet been debated. It is not even a White Paper; it looks like the tail fin of a British Airways plane. In fact, that is entirely appropriate, because that is all it is: it is a tail fin; it has no body and no wings. We do not know whether it will be 100 per cent elected, or 80 per cent elected; we do not know how it is going to be elected or whether the Cunningham committee recommendations for a complete change of the conventions between the two Houses are going to be accepted. We do not even know what it is going to be called. It has no body and there are certainly no wings, because we have no date for the take-off of this project at all. In fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I thought he made a very valid point at the end of Second Reading in spelling out what he thought would be the priorities of an incoming Government—and I think that applies to whatever Government is created after the next election. They will not include the replacement of the House of Lords.
We are in an extraordinary situation in which it is clear that opinion in the House does not coincide with the opinion of the two Front Benches. They are united in a new mañana party, which reminds me of the tale in 1588 of the shipwreck of part of the Spanish Armada in the Western Isles of Scotland. One of the ships was wrecked off a very small island with a population of 100—a part of the country where the pace of life is much slower than in the rest of the United Kingdom. There was only one survivor. He came ashore and the islanders decided that the only thing they could do was to teach him how to speak Gaelic and he would teach them how to speak Spanish.
After about a month of this exchange, they said to him, “What is this word ‘mañana’ that you keep using?” “Well”, he explained to them, “it means tomorrow, maybe, at some time, in due course—that sort of thing”. They nodded. He said “What is the Gaelic word for ‘mañana’?” He got the reply, “There is no word in the Gaelic language to convey such a sense of urgency”. There is no word in the English language to convey the sense of urgency that impels the two Front Benches on this issue. They ask us to sit back and do nothing: to wait for a big bang whose explosive composition and date are totally unknown.
At this point, I was going to inject a party-political note and say that at least we on these Benches have a printed blueprint for an elected House of Lords, but that invites the response, “So you should; you have been at it for 99 years”. It may be that the other parties will start a 99-year course. In the mean time, to be perfectly serious, the House has an opportunity to vote for what the Administration Committee in the Commons called “running repairs”. We are proud of the institution of this House. We are proud of the way that it is regarded by the public. We have suffered from bad publicity in recent years and recent weeks. That can be put aside because it is possible to drag this House into the 21st century before the next election if the House votes so to do today.
Amendment A1A (to Amendment A1)
A1A: Line 10, at end insert—
“(e) to create an all-appointed House.”
This morning, I suddenly saw a range of manuscript amendments and I thought that there was dirty work afoot or that something dastardly was in the air. I recalled, back in my family history, Glencoe, when we were invited to dinner by the wicked Campbells, who henceforth had to have a yellow stripe in their tartan. I wondered why the Liberals had chosen yellow. Last week I wore a yellow tie, and I wonder why the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, has suddenly seemed to have switched sides and moved to the yellow. I have gone blue with a yellow anchor.
I would now like again to correct the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because at his Second Reading debate, he turned to me with a sort of evil look in his eye and called me an enemy because I had not voted for his Bill. He had forgotten that one of the traditions of this House is that when at Second Reading something benefits you, you do not speak in favour of it. Being an elected hereditary Peer and being effectively told that if I supported him I would be a life Peer was wrong. More than that, I am one of his supporters because he was a Member of Parliament for Peebles and I am the Baron of Polmood in the County of Peebles, so we are roughly on the same side.
What worries me is this yellow business. There is yellow-belly and yellow also denotes jealousy—of which the Liberals have a multitude—or it can mean cowardly, but it is not. It means someone who wishes to change something. They wish to change the Government and good luck to them. I have supported them on many things, and in many aspects of this Bill I would support them again.
It is always an important day. Last week we had the ides of March and today is the feast of San Giuseppe, which is the feast of St Joseph where the Pope speaks in the Vatican areas of the role of the worker in society—man effectively lives to work and does not work to live, but it is actually the other way round. Here we are trying to determine the future of a great institution but without an awful lot of knowledge. I disclose my interest here: I was part of the team paid by the Labour Party in 1968 to look at the reform of the Lords. As your Lordships may know, over a period of time, I have produced paper after paper and analysis after analysis and I really supported a wholly elected House when I first came here. I, too, have perhaps been contaminated a bit by change—but more, I think, influenced by your Lordships. As I research, I suddenly find that there is a breadth of knowledge and experience that could be directed towards the outside world rather than towards some elements of internecine strife.
In our recent debates, opinions have shifted and changed. I have moved my amendment because there is a certain misrepresentation of what you call an elected hereditary Peer. Under the 1999 Act, for which I did not vote, we were exempted, I was not sure what that was, but I thought that we were exempted, then we were excepted, and then some of us were elected. To be honest, I did not expect to be elected. In general, in any of these strange elections, if you have 10 people who all agree to put each other in the top 10, William Hill advise me that no matter how many there are in the race, you will automatically get in. So it was a put-up job, or a dastardly deed.
Now that we have moved on, I must accept that my excepted and elected colleagues have done a pretty good job over time. However, they are permanently assaulted from outside by people saying that they are hereditary. They are hereditary Peers—who were elected. Parties opposite have often tried to remove the word “elected”. It was not a perfect election; it was totally imperfect. But it exists.
I tabled this amendment and Amendment 40 because one should recognise that these new manuscript amendments are a little insulting. Under the 1999 Act there is a register of people who can stand for elections should one come. I suggest in Amendment 40, to which I will not speak now, that all 175 on the register should be placed before the Appointments Commission. You cannot exclude them totally just because they are hereditary. My amendment would, in part, determine the view of the House and also create the correct position. If we place the list of Peers who wish to stand before the Appointments Commission, that effectively removes the election. They would be appointed.
I would not wish your Lordships to feel that I was interfering, but over the past weeks and in the coming months, I have put in hand a complete analysis, an assembly, of all your Lordships’ contributions to this House since each noble Lord arrived. The preliminary research shows that it is a remarkable collection of ideas and differences of opinion. It also shows that your Lordships, individually and collectively, have shown an ability to change opinion by almost 180 degrees, and then 180 degrees back. I am slightly doubtful, although I still believe that there is an election role here, and I would like to move my amendment and see what the opinion of the House is.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, who has more experience in more Houses of Parliament than I, that I am rather regretful of the way in which he simply spurned my rather straightforward questions, as if I were operating some kind of device to get him to say something that he did not want to say. I have no idea what his analogy was about catching a fly. I have no desire to catch a fly. I would actually quite like to know what he thinks. I am rather depressed at the moment, because I am not sure whether I misled the House at Second Reading or not.
I think that the noble Lord is in favour of an appointed House. I think that he was once in favour of an elected House and has changed his mind. It would be more open of him if he were to stand up and admit that, rather than playing this Liberal game of saying one thing in one place and another in another, assuming that nobody will ever put the two ends of the conversation together and decide that they are perhaps more confused than the rest of us.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Selsdon on moving very smartly this morning when he saw the manuscript amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and tabling his own. In doing so, I should make clear, if noble Lords have not yet had notice of this, that I wish to degroup my Amendments A1B and 32ZA. So quickly did my noble friend move that he got in front of me in the queue. Perhaps he realised that, although on this occasion I cannot support the specifics of his amendment, I support the principle of tabling it as that allows us to have a debate on an appointed House, which I know many of your Lordships keenly support.
I listened very carefully to what my noble friend had to say, and, as I understand it, his amendment lays before the House, honestly and openly, the known and intended effect of the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which is to create an all-appointed House. I shall not repeat the remarks that I made before we came into Committee on the declared belief of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, but it would have helped if he had been franker about that. After all, the second signatory to this amendment is my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, who has always been straight about his views. He is clear—he has said this consistently since we started to debate the future of the House of Lords in 1998 and 1999—that he wants an all-appointed House. I expect he also knows that, over time, this Bill will create it, and therefore he certainly shares the sentiment of the amendment of my noble Lord Selsdon, which is that one of the purposes of the Bill is to create an all-appointed House. I suspect that the same must be true for the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton. He has lived a life of immense distinction in the public service and I do not see the smell of electoral battle bringing fire to those wise old eyes. Perhaps he will rise in a few moments and tell me that he has a passion for election—I await that with interest—but he, too, appears to agree with the purpose of the Bill, which was clarified by my noble friend Lord Selsdon. However, I am not quite so sure about the noble Baroness, Lady Jay.
I wonder whether the noble Lord could help noble Lords given his vast experience on the committee—the cabal with Mr Straw and others. Does he think there is a consensus in both Houses of Parliament in favour of an all-appointed House? Although I personally favour an all-appointed House, I rather suspect that there is not, and for that reason it is precisely the sort of thing that we do not want to put on the agenda now because it will simply lead to no reform whatever. Surely the purpose of this Bill is to achieve a small improvement in the way the House works.
That is extremely seductive but I think that the hidden purpose of the Bill is to provide for an all-appointed House. That is why I asked the noble Lord, Lord Steel, whether that was his intention. I do not see the great standard bearers of democracy rushing forward to support this Bill. In a moment I will lay out a timetable to provide for an elected House soon after the next election. I hope that the Government will accept my meagre offering, and take it forward if they win the next general election.
At Second Reading, I laid out what I thought the priorities of a Cameron Government would be. Indeed, my right honourable friend David Cameron has said that this might not be a priority. But he is not witness to the intensity of the debates that now take place very regularly on a Thursday afternoon in your Lordships’ House. He has not understood the passion that is roused by this subject, or the frustration that is felt by so many noble Lords that nothing is going to be done. That is why I said to the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, that in a moment I am going to describe the kind of timetable that would bring what so many noble Lords desire—a finality to this debate, and that would be a directly elected senate.
I am confused by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, as I was a little bit by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because I thought that she was a democrat and that she believed in an elected House—
I intend to intervene later, but as the noble Lord has now referred to me twice, I say to him quite clearly, in order that he does not, as I would say, spend a great deal of time speculating about my position, that indeed I am in favour of election. That is why I regard the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, Amendment A1A, as being wrecking to the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, because it precisely does not forward the purposes as they are agreed in his amendment.
I am delighted to hear it. I was hoping that the noble Baroness would say exactly that, because if it comes to a Division on my noble friend’s amendment, she and I will find ourselves—not for the first time, but it happens fairly rarely—in the same Lobby. Like her, I am not in favour of an appointed House. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, on the other hand, will have to consider his position rather more carefully as to whether he supports my noble friend Lord Selsdon. Then we will be able to see whether he is in favour of an appointed House. There we have it. The noble Baroness still says that she is in favour of a more democratic House; I could not help feeling that in her Second Reading speech, she was drifting away from that.
What really worries me about the original amendment—the purpose clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel—is that the purpose seems to me to be defending a House that was created in the 20th century, coming forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, has said, with a piecemeal reform to an appointed House. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, will not be offended by this, but it reminds me of those Peers who, nearly 100 years ago in 1911, led by Lord Rosebery and Lord Lansdowne, tabled so very belatedly their incremental proposals for reform of the hereditary House, which were in effect to defend the 19th century House. Therefore, the House of Lords always finds itself a century out of date. I see the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who caught my eye. He is on the side of the angels with me—I assume that he will also vote against my noble friend Lord Selsdon, because he, like me, is in favour of an elected House.
The noble Lord is quite right. On Lords reform, he and I will march shoulder to shoulder towards an elected House. I do not understand why the Conservatives say that it is a second- or third-term issue. I remind the noble Lord that Sir Winston Churchill managed to lead a Government who brought in the Beveridge report and the Education Act 1944 while fighting a world war. When came this doctrine that a Government can do only one thing at a time?
I feel suitably chastised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. As I tried to point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, my right honourable friend Mr Cameron is not aware of the sense of frustration that exists in this House. As a result of these debates, I shall make it my business to draw even the noble Lord’s remarks to his attention, and to try to get him to bring forward his timetable, so that, if the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, were to accept my timetable, it could well be after the next general election that we could have a House of Lords reform Bill or an elected senate Bill in the very first Session of Parliament.
I do not want to digress from the amendment too much. The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said that he wanted to tidy up the question of the 92 elected hereditary Peers. What is so interesting is that those Peers are not appointed, which again leads me to believe that the noble Lord is really after a wholly appointed House. He is not willing to strike in the daylight and throw elected hereditary Peers out but he is prepared to squeeze them out in the dark. Some might call that clever.
The noble Lord raised the commitment given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, which again goes to the heart of the commitment that was made. I have no idea of the veracity of the private conversations between the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord, but it strikes me—and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, would agree—that, if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, had said in 1999 that he would have been quite happy with this sort of Bill as a stage two, it might have been rather more difficult to get the 1999 Bill agreed. The noble Baroness was of course Leader of the House and, if she does not mind my saying so, she was the first person to be stunned to hear of the agreement struck between the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. Many of those who were there will hear the echo of the noble and learned Lord talking about the agreement being “binding in honour” on all those who took part in it. Those are solemn words and should not be struck down by what the noble Lord, Lord Steel, said. So I will have no part in this; otherwise, it would be a trick played on former parliamentarians whom the noble Lord, Lord Steel, always seeks to defend. It would be a calculated slight to those former colleagues on all sides who left this place with many regrets but who, crucial to the leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, offered no disruption in 1999. Therefore, I cannot possibly agree with that part of the noble Lord’s purpose clause.
Under this Bill, only those who have caught the eye of the great and the good will, in time, remain. They will be the men of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson or Lord Jay. I hope that we are going to see even more of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, now that he has been discharged from his duty running the Appointments Commission. In fact, he will be able to see how his appointments have fared. Now they will be the men of the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, and will no doubt be subtle and estimable additions to our Parliament. However, there will not be a single elected Peer. Nowhere in the House will there be an elected Peer, and that is what the Bill is about. That, in essence, is its purpose. My noble friend Lord Selsdon, even if I disagree with him and will be obliged to vote against him, is absolutely right to point that out.
No one who honestly believes in an appointed House could oppose my noble friend’s amendment. How could they vote against what they believe in? The result, if he presses it to a Division, will be a most important test of the views of this House. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, said, there is some confusion as to what we should do next, voting against my noble friend and ensuring that his amendment is not carried would mean that the House was not in favour of an all-appointed House, and that would be a significant moment. That is why I am going to oppose my noble friend’s amendment. However, on behalf of my noble friend—not that he needs my support—I recommend that all those who genuinely support an all-appointed House make that clear by going into the Lobby with him. Let no one say that that would not be a fair test.
Your Lordships have had barely more notice of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, than they have had of the amendment of my noble friend. If a Division on this amendment is not a fair test of the opinion of the House as it is today, then neither is any Division that may follow on any other amendment. The amendment says,
“to create an all-appointed House”.
That is the proposition that my noble friend has put before us and it could not be clearer or more readily understood by people watching us.
It is absolutely clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has made apparent, that this Bill has nothing to do with whether we have an elected House or an appointed House. To suggest that one was voting on this amendment to indicate that is absurd. It is absolutely clear that this Bill is not concerned with that issue and a vote on this amendment would not indicate in any way how one stands on the wider issue of an elected or appointed House.
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend but that is clearly not the point. We are not being given a choice on whether to vote for an appointed House or an elected House. The amendment has to do with the purpose of the Bill before us. The amendment is to add a purpose clause and we will vote on the purpose of the Bill not on whether we should have an appointed or an elected House. That is a debate for another day completely.
My noble friend should not worry. We will be returning to that debate many times in the months and years ahead. I hope that my noble friend recognises that, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I am very happy to answer the questions and queries that are put to me not just from the Back Benches but from all around the Chamber. It may not suit my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or other promoters of their purpose clause to follow the route of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. I was happy to see his amendment because it gives me an opportunity to vote against an all-appointed House. I cannot be clearer than that. It strikes me as being a simple proposition.
The noble Lord has been tempting us to rise, which I have tried to resist, but I have now found that impossible. I do not want him to rush to a conclusion but as he has been so keen on complete frankness from everyone else, can we have clarity from him? We know of his passion to abolish this place and replace it with a fully elected House. He promised that he would give us a timetable by which a Conservative Government might do that. I invite him to do that swiftly now and in doing so deal with the specific point that on this first of some 95 amendments tabled to this very short Bill, he has spoken for nearly 20 minutes. How long does he estimate that this all-embracing Bill that he has in mind will take to go through the House? Will he address that point?
The only reason I have been speaking for a long time is because noble Lords keep asking questions, and unlike the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I am happy to rise to the fly and respond.
The noble Lord has reminded me that I gave a commitment to the noble Baroness and one or two others that I would respond to the question on a timetable. Let me begin by saying that the time has come for this House and another place to debate the White Paper which was published more than a year ago. The important aspect of that White Paper is that it was published with the broad agreement of all the political parties. Although the Convenor of the Cross Benches and perhaps the Bishop would not have agreed with every aspect of it, they were part of the process that created it, so we should have an early opportunity to debate it.
For the past two weeks, and on many occasions, I have come to the House to debate its future. I have not, until today, proposed any amendments, I have not proposed any debate and I have not proposed any new legislation. All I have done is react to suggestions by other people. It must be our absolute right in a great debating Chamber to discuss these issues. All I have just said is that, given that the Government proposed that there should be a consensual discussion leading to a White Paper, Parliament should debate it.
Going back to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, after the debates in both Houses responding to the charge made not just by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, but by others, that there is no progress, let those who are interested in an elected House demonstrate progress. Step one: let us have a debate on the White Paper; step two: let the Government come forward with draft clauses for consideration, perhaps in a pre-legislative scrutiny committee, which have been so successful in this House, or even in a Joint Committee, before Christmas.
There has to be an election in 12 months. We know the end game of this. After the next election, there will be a brand new House of Commons with 100 or 150 new Members of Parliament, almost whichever party wins. A Bill should be proposed in the House of Commons. The single most important outstanding issue, which is the electoral system, can be resolved only in the other place. If the Labour Party and the Conservative Party believe in first past the post, which I do, and I think most people in the Labour Party do as well, then that is the kind of senate that we would have. The Bill would then come to the House of Lords just over a year from now to be debated. It would take a long time and, although I would regret it very deeply, the Government might have to resort to a Parliament Act and therefore, before the centenary of the 1911 Parliament Act, we would have a statute for a 21st-century directly elected senate.
To those who make the charge that there can be no progress, I say that there can be, and I challenge the Government to accept my timetable, and they will find that the Conservative Party is very co-operative in helping to make it so.
We would certainly co-operate with the timetable up to the next general election, but I have been at pains to explain that I cannot bind the Conservative Party thereafter, particularly since my right honourable friend the leader of the party has suggested that there may be many more important things to deal with immediately after the election. I have also explained, and I am happy to do so again—although I shall get the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, up again telling me that I am banging on and repeating myself—since I did not make myself clear the first time round, that because of this sense of frustration in the House, I will have to pass this on to my right honourable friend. He may be so impressed by the sense of urgency for an elected House and by the consensus between the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches that he decides we ought to be able to come forward with a Bill.
When the noble Lord does that, could he draw to Mr Cameron’s attention the precedent of Gladstone’s 1867 reform Bill, which Disraeli successfully scuppered before bringing forward a year later a far more radical reform Bill? There is a precedent for a Conservative Government ratting on previous commitments and being far more radical than any of the noble Lord’s supporters behind him could ever dream of.
The only ratting that the Liberal Democrats know about is on their commitment to have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. We will take no lectures from the Liberal Democrats on the question of ratting; they know more about it than the rest of us put together.
No, I have not yet had that discussion with my right honourable friend. It is not anticipated that there will be an election for at least another 12 months, so there is an enormous amount of time between now and then for all political parties to decide what will be in their manifesto. Indeed, I am not sure that the Conservative Party has even started on that process, so it would be very strange if I were this afternoon able to make an absolute commitment.
I know that some noble Lords would like me to make an absolute commitment, because it would answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, about the frustration that nothing is happening, that there is no energy and that inertia has set in. I want to be part of rebuilding momentum. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, are of the same mind—and, no doubt, so is the Prime Minister. I do not know why the noble Viscount is asking me these questions; he should be asking the Government. They are in charge; they are in control of the timetable.
Perhaps I may make my final point, because then I shall sit down; I have spoken for more than long enough. The Conservative Party would never have started on this process of reform without having a very clear idea of where it was going to end up.
My noble friend may want an escape hatch at this point. We were being treated to fanciful speculations on his part, way detached from the great majority of his supporters in this House and roaming into the future. Then he was suddenly challenged by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, with his Gladstonian recollections, so there was a competition in fancifulness. Can we not address the substance of the amendments? My noble friend Lord Strathclyde agrees with my noble friend Lord Selsdon that we do not want an appointed House, so they have tabled and spoken to this amendment in order that the proposal may be rejected to avoid their fears being fulfilled. That objective coincides precisely with that of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. We do not seek an all-appointed House.
We have all been debating this matter for years and years. The way that this House has developed and is developing even today is incrementally, with broad consent at each step, as it did when life Peers were invented; and as it did when, in a rather complicated way, the bulk of the hereditaries were removed. We have now reached the point when further steps can and should be taken on which there is almost universal agreement. The points set out in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, have emerged from discussion in committee after committee. Each of them has been supported without difficulty.
There is no passionate cry, even from my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, to maintain the pattern for entry of hereditaries to the House. There is no opposition to the proposal to enable Peers to retire. There is no opposition to the House being able to exclude Members. All that is consensual; it is an area where we can make real progress without committing ourselves one way or the other on the further future. We all agree that we do not want the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Selsdon. May we not proceed on that basis by carrying forward discussion on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Steel?
The cascade of amendments before us, including Amendment 1A, are almost all intended to change or add substantially to the Bill. For myself, I do not believe that the Bill will carry the weight of the amendments; and I do not think that it is intended to do so. That is my basic position.
Amendment A1, the basic amendment that we are discussing an amendment to, is intended to identify very simply the main provisions of the Bill so that it is easy to judge whether they are desirable. That is what it is about. My name has been added to Amendment A1 because I think these provisions are desirable and because I have for many years generally favoured a statement of the purposes of a Bill at the beginning of most legislative proposals. That is my position. It is very simple.
If the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, looks at Hansard tomorrow, he will see that he used the phrase “hidden purposes”. I have to tell him that there are no hidden purposes as far as I am concerned; I find it extremely difficult to decide on my purpose, so a hidden purpose is quite beyond me. The various other references to me, such as the colour of my tie, by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, are quite irrelevant. I am wearing this tie because I invited my wife to lunch today and she particularly likes it. That is the explanation. My position is quite simple on all these matters, including the substance of the amendment. Amendment A1A goes too far and should not be supported, but Amendment A1 is to be supported.
My name has also been added to this amendment. I think I made the points that I wanted to make in rising to the fly, perhaps unfortunately, of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I re-emphasise that I made it clear at Second Reading why I support this—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, rhetorically, because I do not intend to invite an intervention. I suspect that the noble Lord does not understand the process of thought that leads some of us to believe that incremental reform is worthwhile and worth pursuing. I hope that I made that point at Second Reading.
I have rather lost track of this afternoon’s debate. We have been involved in an almost single-handed therapeutic session in which the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has sought to understand the inner workings of the psychology of all of us who support the Bill and the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. My position follows exactly that of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, in that I see this as a useful contribution to the purpose of the Bill, but I have supported and will continue to support an elected element in this House. I see the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, as a wrecking amendment and will have no hesitation in voting against it. I will also vote very happily for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and will not concern myself with the fantasies, as they were appropriately described by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, about the psychology or the long-term theoretical objectives of either the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, I have always supported an appointed House. I feel rather guilty about not having contributed to the Bill before now, but I have been very much led by my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth and all the work that he has done. I pay enormous tribute to him for that work. He has done a fantastic job in putting forward the case for an appointed House and in pointing out the very serious dangers of an elected one. Having said that, I originally went along with the idea that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, should put forward a Bill on this.
At the time—this concept emerged a very long time ago—we were seriously beleaguered. Members on both Front Benches stated that they believed in an elected House and that this was an important thing to have. We then reached the point at which Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, and there was a serious worry that he might want to make some left-wing gesture and start talking about legislation to reform our House with an elected element. Of course, things have changed since then, and quite dramatically. I argue that Mr Gordon Brown must be incredibly in favour of an appointed House. He has filled our House with a whole mass of people: so-called experts from all walks of life. The noble Lord, Lord Myners, was here only a moment ago; sadly, he has just left the Chamber. We would not have his presence and all the wisdom that he brings from the City, if it were not for the fact that he could be appointed to this House.
Clearly, Mr Gordon Brown has been converted into believing in an appointed House. I have always had my doubts about my Front Bench on this issue, which I think says one thing and probably believes another. But the last thing I want to do is impute that it is in any way not being straightforward. There are dangers in bringing this Bill forward for the simple reason that it raises these issues all over again. Let us suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, succeeds and gets this Bill into the other place. The chances of it not being amended seem very small and it could be amended in a way that we would all find extremely uncomfortable.
I do not support this Bill in principle. In particular, I have started to change my mind on abolishing the election of hereditaries. We are an incredibly old House. The one advantage of electing hereditaries is that it brings younger people into this House, which mainly benefits these Benches. It would be a great pity to abolish electing hereditaries and the average age would go up even further than at present. Those are my reservations. I apologise to the House for taking so long to state my position, but that is where I now stand.
I have an anxiety that when this debate finishes and I go outside, someone from the public who has been listening will say to me, “What was all that about?” I honestly do not know how to answer that question. I have heard different motives attributed to the Bill. Some of the supporters, who are good friends of mine, of this first amendment say that they believe in a largely elected House, as do I. Some supporters clearly believe in an all-appointed House. I do not quite understand how one Bill can square that circle.
I am sure that my noble friend was here earlier when the point clearly was made that this is not about the long-term composition of the House. This is about making some incremental changes to the existing House before we come to a position where—I would agree with my noble friend, although he might go further than I—we would have, I would say, an elected element, and he would say, an all-elected House. But that is not what this Bill is about, and this purpose amendment precisely states that. If the wrecking amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, was not under discussion, it would not be relevant.
I am grateful to my noble friend for that. If she were the only person supporting the amendment, I would say that that is fine because I have total confidence in her views and judgment, except for one thing. Other Members of this House interpret the Bill differently. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, obviously does. That is my difficulty. If everyone supporting the first amendment is rejecting the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Steel—apart from the noble Lord himself—perhaps we will begin to see where we are going.
I want to put a question to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Would he support inserting in Amendment A1 a paragraph (e), “to prepare the way for a totally or largely elected House?”. If the amendment said that, I would begin to understand what the Bill was about, but short of that, I am not sure.
I am prepared to read Hansard again and again to see whether I have made a mistake in interpreting what is being said. But I am confused and I think some Members of the Committee share my confusion. Someone said that this is a matter of running repairs. I had a discussion with an eminent Member of this House, who is not here at the moment, who accused me of making the best the enemy of the good. I would never do that and I believe in an incremental approach, provided that the good is the good. If I was totally satisfied of that, I would go along with this.
However, my main point is to say how concerned I am about the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon. We would be getting a decision made which as an unelected House we have no right to make. The Commons clearly said that it wants either a 100 per cent elected House or an 80 per cent elected House. To put forward that amendment and make a decision on a Thursday afternoon just like that, ignoring what the Commons said, is wrong and flies in the face of what the House of Commons wants. The Commons should win any argument of this sort.
In future, when I am asked, “What did you do on the Steel Bill, Daddy?”, I will be hard put to respond. It seems that people who agree with me and those who do not will have been on both sides of the barricade. I am confused, but I am certainly clear that the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, should be defeated.
I will tell my noble friend Lord Dubs what the point of all this is. In a marvellous scene in George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman”—the Don Juan in Hell sequence—the old man says to the young man who has just arrived that,
“instead of merely killing time we have to kill eternity”.
We are here because every year we have a Bill and we debate it; and we shall go on debating it until we get something better, which I hope will be very soon.
My noble friend referred to Bills and eternity; I could not think of a more apt description of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill.
The Government’s position on House of Lords reform has been discussed by a number of noble Lords in this opening debate on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I hope that I will not test the patience of the Chamber if I restate that the Government are committed to a comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House. We will base our proposals on the White Paper, which was produced as a result of cross-party discussions and consensus, and we would welcome a wide-ranging debate on what it contains. As I have said to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, on a number of occasions, I look forward to debating in the very near future the White Paper and comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is not a great admirer of the White Paper. Alas, at Second Reading he said that the Government’s proposals were not imminent and that the White Paper was extremely vague on fundamentals. He spoke rather a lot today about wind. I was not quite sure whether it was the offshore wind variety of renewables or the greenhouse gas emissions variety of cows, about which my colleagues in Defra are so concerned at the moment. We are in a period of debate and discussion on Lords reform and we have made it clear that we will not introduce comprehensive legislation before the next Parliament. This is because we think that on so fundamental a decision as the reform of your Lordships’ House, we have to proceed by cross-party consensus. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The White Paper contains within it many provisions which are the result of cross-party consensus.
I was interested in the helpful suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the timetable that the Government should adopt. As I have already said, we would welcome a debate. We have always said that we would consider publishing draft clauses in the light of the response we receive to the White Paper, and that remains the position. The noble Lord said that the Conservative Party would never have started from here. The problem, of course, is that the Conservative Party would never have started at all. If the party opposite had been at all serious about Lords reform they surely would have used their 18 years in power to bring forward proposals. We welcome the clear determination of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to persuade his right honourable friend the leader of the Conservative Party to change his mind on the urgency of Lords reform. No doubt he will keep us all informed of the progress he makes.
The noble Lord will know that the statutory Appointments Commission was part of the proposals contained in the White Paper. It clearly would make sense that if the option of an 80 per cent appointed House was to be adopted, a statutory Appointments Commission would be necessary. The drafting of the noble Lord’s Bill is extremely helpful in allowing us to debate the nature of a statutory Appointments Commission and we will look very carefully at the proposals the noble Lord has made in that respect.
Hereditary by-elections are difficult to defend. That was the point of the agreement made back in 1999 in order to encourage comprehensive reform of your Lordships’ House. The Government could not support the proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, however, because he described them as being kind to the hereditary Peers. We know that under his proposals it would be at least 2040—it could well be 2060—before the last hereditary Peer left this House. Much as I love the hereditary Peers and the contribution they make, we cannot support a proposal that would allow them to remain until then.
I turn to the third pillar of the noble Lord’s purpose. As with a number of other parts of the Bill, the allowance of Peers to retire is consistent with the Government’s intention on the provision of resignation, attendance requirements and the enfranchisement of Members after fundamental reform. On resignation, the Government’s intention is that Members of a reformed second Chamber should be able to resign in a simple but formal process. On disqualification for lack of attendance, again, we accept the principle; again, such proposals were contained in the White Paper.
On the question of the proposal to exclude Members from the House, there is little doubt over the consensus around Part 4 of the noble Lord’s Bill. The lack of a provision to disqualify Members who are convicted of a serious criminal offence puts us at odds with the rules of another place for no good reason and has caused damage to the reputation of your Lordships’ House. We agree that we must act on this, and we will do so swiftly. Serious criminal conviction is one area where we are considering what legislation could be introduced as part of the Government’s support—
I am surprised, although the Minister is a good friend of mine, and encouraged by what he has said: of the four planks of the Bill, he has stated from the Government’s perspective that he supports three of them in principle and that the debate is just about the fourth. I put it to him, as someone who has taken more legislation through this House than most people, that if you start with a Bill three-quarters of which you are strongly in favour of in principle, surely that is a good basis on which to say that you support the Bill.
Not entirely. I am saying that the Government’s own proposals for fundamental reform are clearly stated in the White Paper, and there are elements in the noble Lord’s Bill that are entirely consistent with what is contained there. I have also said that we will consider carefully the debates in your Lordships’ House and what is in the Bill. We have also said—I was about to finish this—that on serious criminal conviction and expulsion from your Lordships’ House, we are considering legislation as early as possible in order to support the House’s reform of its own disciplinary regulations.
The issue before us is that we believe the way to proceed with general and fundamental reform of your Lordships’ House is the process that was laid out with the publication of the White Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, talked about the vagueness of the timetable, but let us be clear: we have said that we intend to move towards the next general election with a manifesto based on the provisions that are contained in the White Paper. There is no reason why legislation cannot follow the next general election.
Will my noble friend confirm that his reason for rejecting this Bill is that it would delay fundamental reform? Indeed, those were the words he used the last time around this circuit. Given that it will take something like seven or eight years for fundamental reform to take place, can he justify his statement that the Bill would delay it?
I do not know where my noble friend gets his figure of seven or eight years from. Why should it be seven or eight years? It is perfectly possible for a Bill to reform your Lordships' House to be brought forward in the first Session of a new Parliament following a general election which, as we have observed, must take place within 15 months. It need not take seven or eight years.
Is the noble Lord saying that the Government like three-quarters of the noble Lord’s Bill but that they will not have it done by somebody else? Is he saying that they want to do it themselves, so they will reject this Bill and then do the same in two or three years’ time?
The Government’s view on the noble Lord’s Bill, as it is on all Private Members’ Bills, is that we do not seek to impede its passage through your Lordships' House. That is the Government’s position. I have said that we are looking at aspects of the Bill; I have also said that we are anxious to move towards legislation to support the House in being able to discipline its own Members. But the Government’s fundamental position is that we want comprehensive reform. Having established a process to bring the parties together in cross-party talks, having had very successful talks, a very successful outcome and a clear pathway towards the election and legislation after it, it is no wonder that that is where the Government are going to put their energy.
I hope that my noble friend will not regard this as nit-picking but, in response to various questions and comments, he has said that the Government effectively support three of the four points. As my noble friend Lord Grocott says, that amounts to a three-quarter endorsement of the Bill. Yet I understand that what he is saying about proposed subsection (d) of the new clause, which would,
“enable the House to exclude Members from the House”,
is that the Government are looking more urgently than considering the general points of the White Paper at perhaps bringing legislation forward before the general election. Would he be kind enough to confirm that, if possible? If that is so, and all he is saying is that he cannot accept the provision on the hereditary Peers, why is it not possible to take any potential immediate action to include some of the other points proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Steel?
Of course the Government are listening very closely to your Lordships' House, and we will consider other aspects of the Bill. We will consider the issue of a statutory Appointments Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is also taking note and will attempt to convince his leader to change his mind on the priority of Lords reform. We are perfectly prepared to engage in discussions with noble Lords on these matters. All I am seeking to do is to stress again that our prime concern is to take forward fundamental reform of your Lordships' House. In that respect, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, that the Government will be strongly opposed to his amendment. We cannot support it. Although it is very unusual, I believe, for members of the Government to vote on an aspect of a Private Member’s Bill, I shall vote in the Not-Contents Lobby on that matter, because I could not possibly support it.
Not for the first time, the Minister has referred to his proposed legislation on discipline in the House. When does he think the House will be able to see either the detail of his proposals or the generality of them, and will they be discussed or debated in any other forum rather than simply being published by the Government as a fait accompli? The House should be consulted on these issues before the Government take a final position.
That point is very well taken. I assure noble Lords that the Government have no intention of doing that. The House has a mechanism for looking at these matters and the Government will be very much informed by the outcome. There is certainly no intention suddenly to produce a proposal without there being full discussions with relevant Members of your Lordships' House.
That is extremely helpful and useful, because I think the Minister said that the Government would not seek to legislate until the House had taken a view through its procedures, either a Leader’s group or a discussion within the Privileges Committee, which could be approved by the House. Is that what I understood the Minister to say?
The Government believe that we need to make urgent progress in this matter. As I understand it, the House has a mechanism for looking at these matters and the Government would of course wish to be informed of the outcome. We hope that it will not take an inordinate length of time and that there will be a speedy outcome which would then be able to inform the Government as to the kind of legislation that needed to be brought forward.
I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, in his place. I apologise to him for not being in my place at Second Reading, when he spoke, but I am very grateful to him for what he said about me. I have been called many things in my life, and I am delighted to add to that list being a representative of the Bourbon tendency and having Trotskyite leanings.
If the noble Earl looks at Hansard, unless it got it wrong, he will see that I said that we have here in the House a member of the Bourbon tendency, and my noble friend on the Front Bench, who fully appreciated that the point was tongue in cheek, said that we had on our own Front Bench a member of the Trotskyite tendency.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lea, has surprised a lot of people, but I am grateful to him for his kindness towards me. I turn to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Selsdon. The effect of the Bill before us is exactly as he said; it is to create an all-appointed House.
It is fascinating how the views of some people who have come to this House have changed since 1997. I remember very well in government being chastised on more than one occasion by my Secretaries of State and other senior members of the Cabinet, some of whom are up here now, for having lost Divisions. “Why can’t we win Divisions?”, they had asked. “This is my legislation and the House of Lords, that unelected Chamber, is defeating my legislation. We are not doing the right thing from the Conservative Party point of view”.
There is another group of Peers who have come in since 1999 and who in the past had been great potential reformers of the House, seeing changing it as one of the great things that they could do when they got into it. Is it not fascinating how both those two groups of people have come together to support an appointed House as if, now that they are here, the House is infinitely better than it was pre-1997? That is why my noble friend Lord Selsdon has got his amendment absolutely right. Alas, I cannot support it because, being the second hereditary Peer speaking in this debate, I want an elected Chamber. I want the appointed Peers to go—I would be delighted to see you all go, as I would be delighted to see the hereditaries go. Let us have a fully elected Chamber. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, good speed with the proposals that have come before us, which in due course will come forth.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, intrigued me when he asked, “Why is it that the Government can only do one thing at a time?”. It was not so long ago—in fact, it was the other day—when the noble Lord or another member of his party complained that the Government were introducing too much legislation. Well, perhaps it just suited the argument at the time for him to say that.
I turn to Amendment A1 from the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I distrust the amendment; I am highly suspicious of it, because of its timing. In principle, I support having a purpose clause in a piece of legislation but not the timing of it. We have debated this Bill before, yet on the night before we are to debate it in Committee this amendment is tabled. A lot of the Members of the House would not have been aware of it. Why was not this done at Second Reading? Why was the noble Lord not more open with us? Why has he sneakily put it in as a starred amendment? It makes me extremely suspicious, and I find that as he is unable to reply to the questions put to him by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, I remain continually suspicious about his motives. I think he is one of those who are chameleons on this matter; he says with one voice that he wants an elected House but, now that he is here, he would be perfectly happy to remain in an appointed House.
I turn to Amendment A1B and the House of Lords hereditary Peers by-elections. I cannot support that; I shall go into it in much more length when we get to my amendment, but it is a matter of supreme principle to me and loyalty to those of my friends and colleagues who were brutally removed in 1999. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, rather surprised me when she said that she was now in favour of incremental reform; she certainly was not in favour of incremental reform in 1997, when she wielded the axe with devastating effect. If she had been more incremental then—
I have changed from the old system that we had, and since the 1999 Bill I have been in favour of a fully elected House. I voted that way the last time—and I think that it would be much the best thing for this Chamber.
In 1999, a decision was taken as a result of an agreement that was made. The principle of that agreement was that a small number of hereditaries, some 90 of us, would remain until stage 2. A lot of people who had worked hugely long hours, hugely longer than we are working now, for considerably less money and at great cost to themselves, had given a great chunk of their lives to the service of this House. In 1999 they lost their seats on the basis of that agreement. I was one of the Peers and Members of this House that did not like it at the time, but we went through with it. However, it would be quite wrong and disloyal to those who gave up their seats to support an amendment like that. I can understand some noble Lords not agreeing with me, but they were probably not in the House before 1999, understanding what it felt like and what the atmosphere was like. For that reason, I would try to remove that part from the noble Lord’s amendment before us.
It is of concern that the noble Lord has tabled an amendment at the 11th hour and 59th minute. It is highly suspicious and he does the House a huge disservice. He should have been much more open and done this at Second Reading. A lot of noble Lords would have liked to have taken part in this debate had they known that such an amendment would come before us.
I shall put down a Written Question to get a more precise answer so that I can plan ahead, but 2060 is the date when proceedings will be of less interest to me.
I share the sentiments of my noble friend Lord Caithness who I felt spoke very powerfully about the deal that was entered into solemnly that resulted in the settlement that we have and the need for a properly thought-through stage 2.
Turning to the amendment in front of us, we have not heard any convincing argument about why Amendment A1 was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. Why is there a manuscript amendment? Why is there a need to state this? It is very clearly a ruse, a wheeze or a device. One thing I have learnt in my time at Parliament, which is relatively short compared with some noble Lords here, is that parliamentary wheezes do not work. They run extremely badly outside the Westminster village. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who suggested that someone sitting in the Public Gallery might ask while walking out, “What was all that about?”. It is a fair question.
We have not had a particularly dignified parliamentary occasion this afternoon because there have clearly been some underhand movements to produce such a substantial amendment at the very last minute. There is no logical explanation for that other than to generate an extraordinary situation of the purpose of the Bill being stated. We know what the purpose is and we do not need the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, to come down in written form at the last minute; a few hours before we debate the Bill. It does this House no credit at all for that to happen. We have an awful lot to talk about in the Bill, but to have this debate prompted by a manuscript amendment is not productive. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, owes the Committee a frank explanation about the timing and purpose of the amendment.
I simply have to take issue with my noble friend for talking about the wheezes, tricks and all the other things that have happened. As a matter of fact, this has been going on now for one hour and 27 minutes. We were here to talk about the purposes of the Bill in a serious way. Those of us who consider this a very serious Bill cannot be happy with the way that it has progressed so far. Only very recently have we come to the purposes of the Bill and heard from the Minister that the Government are unhappy with only one purpose, but happy with the other three. It took an awful long time to get there.
I say to my noble friends who are talking about wheezes, and my noble friend Lord Caithness, that there is no way that I would have supported the Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, if I thought that he was up to wheezes of all kinds. We have seen wheezes this afternoon. We have seen people wasting time.