House of Lords
Tuesday, 5 January 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.
NHS: King’s College Hospital
My Lords, the Department of Health has established arrangements in place to ensure that specialised NHS services, where necessary, are commissioned nationally, and that the best research is supported. As a result, 50 services are at present subject to national commissioning, and the National Institute for Health Research supports vital research, including a great deal on haemato-oncology across the country.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she appreciate that if the national blood authority, the Anthony Nolan Trust and King’s College Hospital could be brought together in some way, we could have a national unit for bone marrow failure that would be of international standard and thus of great benefit to both patients and research?
My Lords, this country has a strong and internationally recognised track record in bone marrow donation and the Anthony Nolan Trust and NHS Blood and Transplant play a central and important role in delivering this. King’s College Hospital is a world-class teaching hospital whose research in this area is absolutely superb, particularly at the new cellular therapy centre for research. We welcome close collaboration on all aspects of health science research, and in this instance we look forward to great results from this collaboration.
Have the Government undertaken an assessment of the risk to clinical services if the recession results in a decrease in the research grants available, given the number of clinical services that are supplied by those receiving funding from university programmes?
My Lords, we put £1.7 billion into research through Best Research for Best Health. As the noble Baroness will be aware, over a three-year period of transition we are funding research programmes contestably and transparently through rigorous competition. This is working very well indeed and we do not expect any reduction in the work. For example, the funding supports the department of haematology at King’s College Hospital and the Guy’s and St Thomas’s Biomedical Research Centre. We have no reason to assume that this funding is under threat at all.
My Lords, the Minister will know that haemoglobinopathies such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia cause great suffering to many children and adults in this country. Can she tell us how many researchers into these conditions are in receipt of government grants, and whether there is a network of clinics so that patients can be referred to where they can get help and treatment within the 18-week rule announced this summer?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to say that many different sorts of anaemia require attention, some of which are very specialised indeed. For example, we expect around 129 people to be affected by paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria, but it is very serious. I cannot give her the exact figures, but each different type of anaemia has its own programme, some of which are nationally funded and some are funded through regional specialisations.
I shall follow up the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, about the effect of the recession on grants to these units. Has any assessment been made of the reduction in charitable donations to such organisations? After all, some of the biggest donors were banking groups and many private donors are stressed for funds at the moment. Is there a plan B or will the work of these units be badly affected not only by cutbacks in government funding but by reductions in charitable donations?
I have no statistics in my brief about that issue. However, it is reported in today’s papers that, through the funding of the Wellcome Trust, a new vaccine for cancer is being tested at King’s College Hospital. We have no reason to assume that such research will not continue. However, I will ask internally about the question raised by the noble Baroness.
My noble friend raises an important point about rare conditions. The department launched a consultation in December about this issue seeking views from industry, stakeholders and voluntary organisations on the development of the arrangements proposed in the Carter review, which the House discussed recently. This is about shaping how we commission services, new drugs and treatments for people with extremely rare conditions so that we end up with both a robust and fair system.
My Lords, what is happening in the specialised field of research into and treatment of spinal injuries? In particular, is the Minister aware of the difficult circumstances of the unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which is being affected by the shambles which has occurred in the PFI of the main part of the hospital? The buildings erected under the PFI are unfit for purpose and the remedy is to destroy part of the spinal injuries unit.
I am not aware of the specifics of Stoke Mandeville. The noble Lord and I both have connections with Stoke Mandeville—my grandfather spent 25 years of his life visiting the hospital—and we have discussed the issue of spinal injuries and how they are dealt with across the country. The location of spinal injury units and where people are given the best treatment is a major issue for those dealing with spinal injuries. I am not up to date on spinal injuries. The issue is not part of the Question, which is about haemato-oncology services, but I undertake to find out the up-to-date position on Stoke Mandeville and to let the noble Lord know.
Does the Minister appreciate that research into the condition she mentioned—paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria, which is known as PNH—already receives funding at King’s on a national basis, so there is a precedent for it to receive national funding? Would it not be good if it was given national funding for the collection of the umbilical stem cells it needs for transplants in adults, of which it does more than anyone else in the country?
The noble Baroness is aware that the collection of cord blood stem cells is done across PCTs. However, we have made money available for that and have set a target and made an agreement with the national blood services to fund the collection of up to 20,000 cord blood units by 2013.
Public Funding: Museums and Galleries
My Lords, the Government fully recognise the importance of university museums and galleries and the immense value of the collections that they hold on behalf of the nation. These are used extensively in teaching and research, as well as being open to the general public. The Government’s policy is to continue to invest in higher education museums and galleries through special funding, which is administered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England—HEFCE. The fund currently invests £10 million a year. This funding is currently under review to ensure that judgments on special funding are based on clear principles, making the allocation of this special funding as consistent and transparent as possible.
Will my noble friend put it to the Higher Education Funding Council that if the excellence of the university museums and galleries is to be preserved, dedicated funding will remain essential? Does he acknowledge that university museums and galleries—which include, of course, the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam, the Courtauld, the Whitworth and the Sainsbury—hold no less than 30 per cent of all the nationally dedicated collections? That is an index of their importance not only to research and the creative economy but to the cultural life of us all. If, however, the existing £10 million of ring-fenced funding is to go into the general maw of a reduced block grant to the universities, what accounting procedures or other means will the Government require to be used to ensure that public funding in support of the university museums and galleries, which we ought to treasure as great national assets, is not diminished and remains clearly visible?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments. We are currently undertaking a review of HEFCE funding for university museums and galleries. Sir Muir Russell is leading the review, which is considering both the museums and galleries that currently receive funding and those that do not. I have already expressed the view that we understand and recognise the importance of these collections, which my noble friend has indicated, because they are open to the public and because of their value in research and teaching. We fully endorse his view about the importance of these collections and we have made those views clear. I am afraid that we will have to await the outcome of the review and the recommendations of Sir Muir Russell. We should not anticipate that they will necessarily be negative.
My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the Higher Education Funding Council for England is drawing on sufficiently wide criteria in its assessment? I have the impression that the criteria enunciated relate mainly to higher education and perhaps to other aspects of education narrowly defined. Is the Minister satisfied that the interests of the broad British public and of tourists will be sufficiently allowed for in this review?
My Lords, I feel confident that Sir Muir Russell will take into account the fact that these are not merely a part of higher education research but are also, as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, a valuable resource to the public generally and a tourist attraction as well.
My Lords, given the importance of these museum collections, which the Minister has already set out, could he perhaps comment on the concern expressed by the museums that in the course of the review to date, it appears that none of the museums or galleries has been visited?
I could not possibly comment on that. I can only accept the noble Baroness’s point as accurate. However, I am confident that Sir Muir Russell, who is leading the review, understands fully the importance of these institutions not only to the universities themselves but also to the public at large, and is aware of their wide range. We have mentioned only a few today, but there are a very significant number.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the uncertainty about the criteria is causing great difficulty for the university museums? Is there a risk that the interests of the museums may slip between HEFCE and the department for education on the one hand and DCMS on the other? Will he make sure that the Government get their act together to ensure that the great university museums’ interests are not damaged?
The review is due in 2010. I assure the noble Lord that we will make sure that their interests are not damaged. I understand the concern about what they would see as a period of uncertainty, but our commitment to museums and galleries generally is shown by the fact that we have allocated £191.4 million for national museums and galleries over the next three years. With regard to the importance of these institutions, our commitment has been validated over the years.
My Lords, I declare an interest as I am on the board of the Ashmolean Museum. I draw the Minister’s attention to the considerable contrast between the public funding of important national museums calculated on the basis of grant per visitor, compared with the grant per visitor to the Ashmolean Museum. Is it his belief that national museum grants range from £9.30 per visitor for the British Museum to £13.80 per visitor for the Natural History Museum, whereas funding for the Ashmolean—and, no doubt, for other university museums—is approximately £4.60 per visitor, and may become significantly less given the huge increase in the number of visitors since the Ashmolean’s reopening?
First, we should congratulate the Ashmolean Museum on its recent refit and refurbishment, which a significant amount of government money went into, as was right and appropriate. The cost per visitor is the result of a historical approach. Our concern should not be to decide which of these institutions is more important; the Ashmolean, the Petrie collection and a range of others, together with institutions such as the Natural History Museum, all have a valuable role to play. We believe that our funding overall has accomplished a significant and valuable task in helping these museums to survive, and we have indicated our intention that we want this to continue.
My Lords, in 2007, using the international measure of student enrolment, 71 per cent of 15 to 19 year-olds in the UK were enrolled in education. This compares to 86 per cent in France and 88 per cent in Germany. We know that we need to do more to increase participation, which is why we have introduced EMA, the September guarantee and the 14-to-19 reforms, and have legislated to raise the participation age.
I thank the Minister for those figures, which are vindicated by the research done by the University and College Union. The result, though, is that we have ended up 26th out of 30 leading countries in that age group, and in the 20 to 29 group we are 25th out of 30. Given that the Government’s philosophy, as I understand it, is “education, education, education”, how can they vindicate such success as they have had with this fall in where we are within these 30 major countries almost to bottom place?
My Lords, I am extremely proud of the Government’s commitment to tackling our real concern about the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training. That is why, for example, we have unprecedented levels of investment in 16 to 19 participation and why we have legislated to increase the age of participation from 17 in 2013 to 18 in 2015. That is a historic commitment that the Government have made real. It is also why we have introduced the educational maintenance award, which has had a huge impact on improving the participation of young people and why we are promoting the 14 to 19 reforms of the curriculum so that we are not trying to put square pegs into round holes and we really do have an engaging curriculum to encourage all young people; not only those who want to pursue an academic career. I feel absolutely vindicated in the Government’s strategy and approach to ensuring that young people have the opportunity to fulfil their talents.
My Lords, I agree that quality counts rather than quantity in some ways, but I would not differentiate or choose to divide young people. I want to recognise that all young people have talents, which is something that our Prime Minister has promoted personally. We in central government, local government and all our communities must do everything that we can to ensure that young people’s talents can be realised by creating opportunities and welcoming young people in all aspects of our work.
Does the Minister not accept that a wide range of options for education and training for young people, which are not only of high quality as the noble Lord just mentioned but are relevant to both their needs and the job opportunities available to them, will do a lot more to engage young people than any compulsion that the Government may introduce in 2013 and 2015?
No, I do not. We spent a great deal of time debating this during the passage of the Education and Skills Bill when we looked at the question of compulsion. I know that the noble Baroness’s party is very much opposed to compulsion, but even when we have done absolutely everything—ensured that we had the most engaging curricula, a flexible approach personalised to meet the needs of all young people, however challenging their experiences or upbringing might be, ensured that the financial support is there and that we have the EMAs, courses and funding that this party has put in place—we will end up with young people who will still not engage. That is where the compulsion element becomes so important. We thought that it was right to make education compulsory to 16 and it is now right for it to be compulsory for young people up to the age of 18 to be involved in education, training or an apprenticeship, which I know that this House is particularly interested in.
Does the noble Baroness not realise that her unprecedented commitment to 15 to 19 year-olds is reflected in the highest level of unemployment recorded for 18 to 24 year-olds? Many of those about whom we are talking now who were educated in 2007 are now in the 18 to 24 year-old group. At 18.4 per cent, it is the highest level of unemployment since records began.
My Lords, I am extremely concerned, like many, that young people experience unemployment. The noble Lord knows better than most the impact of unemployment in areas of particular industrial decline around the country. However, we know from the review of my noble friend Lord Leitch looking at the skills that this country needs that we have to get more people into education. Low-skilled jobs are on the decline and it is vital that we have young people gaining skills and going on to university. That is why I, too, am proud that we have such ambitious aspirations to get more young people into university.
My Lords, my noble friend raises an extremely important point. In facing these tough economic times, young people in this country are in a better position than ever before. For example, we have a much lower rate of long-term youth unemployment now than we had in the 1980s and 1990s. We have the September guarantee, under which this Government have committed to ensuring that all 16 and 17 year-olds have a suitable offer of a place to continue in learning, should they wish to take it. This year, we also have the January guarantee, which is funded fully to make sure that all young people who find themselves NEET this month have the opportunity to take back-to-work courses and have education maintenance allowance. None of this was evident in the 1980s or early 1990s.
My Lords, following an open competition, Kathleen Tattersall was appointed in April 2008 to chair interim Ofqual. We made it clear that she would be the first chief regulator following the passage of the relevant legislation and have repeatedly said that since. In June 2008, the Government announced that appointments of new candidates to various posts, including that of chief regulator, should be subject to pre-appointment hearings and that existing appointments, such as that of Kathleen Tattersall, would fall outside those arrangements.
My Lords, I am quite aware that the Secretary of State was not obliged to consult the Select Committee, but that is not the point. Does the Minister not recall how many times during the passage of the apprenticeships Bill only a few weeks ago she tried to reassure me of the Government’s commitment to a really independent Ofqual? In the light of that, would it not have been consistent and demonstrated that commitment, let alone been wise and uncharacteristically gracious, if the Secretary of State had consulted the Select Committee before finally appointing the chair of Ofqual?
My Lords, I wanted to cover that point as a starter. I say seriously on the point that the noble Baroness makes that I have looked carefully at this and asked officials to go through it in some detail to make sure that this is the case. Through the passage of the ASCL Bill, we were absolutely clear about the process for the appointment of the chief regulator and the chief executive of Ofqual. I am slightly bemused over how there could be such a misunderstanding about how the appointment of the chief regulator should be made. We made it clear when the interim chair was advertised, through the advertisement and the candidates’ packs, as well as in quotes in the media, that once appointed as the interim chair the successful candidate—Kathleen Tattersall—would go on to become the chief regulator subject to the passing of the Bill. Also, the right honourable Jim Knight wrote to the chairman of the education Select Committee setting out how the process would work. I am slightly bemused as to how the misunderstanding has arisen, because we have been very clear.
My Lords, does the Minister not consider that Ms Tattersall might have welcomed the opportunity to answer questions from the Select Committee following her useful period as interim regulator and before confirmation of the appointment? Why was it thought right to deny her that opportunity?
My Lords, I am sure that the chief regulator would welcome that. In her role as interim chair of interim Ofqual, I am sure she would have welcomed any invitation from the chairman of the Select Committee. There is absolutely no doubt about that, but it is not what we are talking about. We are talking about a proper, correct process that was independently monitored and scrutinised in the appropriate way by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. When you introduce a new policy, as I think was the case on 2 June 2008 when the Government announced the appointments that would be subject to pre-appointment process, there has to be a line. This appointment fell before that line, and so it has always been the case that Kathleen Tattersall would be, subject to the legislation creating Ofqual, appointed as the chief regulator. The Select Committee has the opportunity, whenever it wishes, to see Ofqual’s chief regulator. I am sure that that will happen in due course.
My Lords, given that there were no pre-appointment hearings or consultation, how will Ofqual be held to account by Parliament? Are we to infer from what my noble friend has just said that it will be done by the Select Committee, or will there be any other way in which it will be held to account?
My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that she misunderstood the Question that was put to her by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley? The noble Baroness did not ask for a reiteration of the history of the events; she asked why the Government did not consult Parliament.
To be fair to the noble Lord, I think I have answered that Question. I am happy to say again that the reason is very clear. As the noble Lord is well aware, when you introduce a policy, there must be a line. This appointment fell before that point. We have been absolutely clear and consistent from day one in articulating our approach to the appointment of the chief regulator.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, there will be three Statements today. With the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord Mandelson will now make a Statement on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. At a convenient point after 4.30 pm, which is likely to be during Second Reading of the Child Poverty Bill, my noble friend Lord Adonis will repeat the Statement on aviation and border security. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will then repeat the Statement on the Copenhagen climate change conference.
Queen's Diamond Jubilee
My Lords, with your Lordships’ permission, I would like to make a brief and important Statement about the Government’s plans to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Two thousand and twelve will be a landmark year for Her Majesty, Britain and the Commonwealth. Queen Victoria is the only British monarch to have celebrated a Diamond Jubilee. However modestly our present Queen might approach this celebration, I know that people across the whole country will want the chance to recognise this remarkable achievement, paying tribute to the Queen and celebrating with great pride and affection Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne. It will also be an opportunity for us as a country to reflect on the incredible changes that have taken place, both here and around the world, over the past six decades. We want this to be a nationwide celebration. Working with colleagues in Buckingham Palace and the devolved Administrations, we are currently planning a series of fitting events to enable communities all over the country to mark the Diamond Jubilee. Although we are still in the early stages of organisation, I can confirm to the House that these celebrations will take place around the first week of June 2012.
In honour of Her Majesty, we will create a special Diamond Jubilee weekend, moving the late May bank holiday to Monday 4 June, and adding an extra bank holiday on Tuesday 5 June. In Scotland, national holidays are a devolved matter and we will work closely with the Scottish Government to help ensure that people across the United Kingdom can celebrate the jubilee together.
In keeping with previous jubilees, we also plan to issue a Diamond Jubilee medal. Over the next few months we will be considering this in more detail, and who should be eligible to receive it. In addition, we will be holding national competitions to be launched later this year for city status, a Lord Mayoralty and Lord Provostship. Further details of these and other government plans for the Diamond Jubilee are available in the Printed Paper Office as well as online, via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s website (www.culture.gov.uk/diamondjubilee).
Finally, I can confirm that the Queen has agreed, as a mark of royal favour, to confer royal borough status on the London Borough of Greenwich. This rare honour is to be bestowed in recognition of the historically close links forged between Greenwich and our royal family, from the Middle Ages to the present day, and the borough’s global significance as the home of the Prime Meridian, Greenwich Mean Time and a UNESCO world heritage site.
Further announcements will follow as our plans for the Diamond Jubilee are confirmed, but I know that voluntary organisations and local communities will benefit from this early indication of the relevant dates. This will be a truly historic occasion and a testament to the hard work and dedication of Her Majesty the Queen to this country and her people. We are committed to ensuring that celebrations take place of which we can all truly be proud.
My Lords, I thank the First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord President of the Council for the Statement. We very much welcome his announcement that Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is to be recognised by an extra bank holiday.
This announcement follows the introduction of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Bill in another place by my colleague Andrew Rosindell on 10 November last. As a member of Her Majesty’s Opposition and one who has held the position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household, I agree entirely with the Minister’s tribute to Her Majesty’s remarkable achievements. Her Majesty has led this country and the Commonwealth unerringly through the many years of her reign. The United Kingdom and the world have changed enormously since she ascended the throne. Throughout it all, Her Majesty has been an example to us all.
The success of the Golden Jubilee in 2002 showed just how strongly the public feel about such an exemplary monarch. The outpouring of patriotism, respect and pride that we saw then owes nothing to any manufactured sentiment. It was not the result of a government focus group or a political campaign but a spontaneous expression of the pride and respect that citizens of this country feel about our society, heritage, institutions and, above all, our monarch. Despite the knocks that we have suffered in the past few years, the current state of the economy and the disillusionment with some of our institutions, this public pride in our country still stands firm. There is no doubt in my mind that the Diamond Jubilee will be the most popular and celebrated event.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a little more detail about exactly what plans are being considered by the Government, especially given the speculation over several possible schemes which appeared in the newspapers at the end of last month. In particular, can the Minister confirm that he is considering a new youth volunteer scheme? I strongly believe that encouraging the participation of young people in volunteer schemes is a wonderful idea. My party has for years called for greater support of voluntary bodies.
Volunteering benefits both society and the individual and often provides the glue that holds communities together. With youth unemployment at today’s record levels and the rising number of young people not in education, employment or training, I hope that these celebrations will include events that will confirm the critical role that young people play in our society and the enormous potential they have to enrich local communities and the public sphere.
Will there be any acknowledgement of the Olympics during these celebrations? We recall that government sources indicated that there was an intention to link the two events in a single celebration, but there is no mention of that in the Statement. Does that mean that at last the Government appreciate that Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee is of sufficient moment itself to justify a very special celebration? What other plans are being considered for welcoming the Olympics to London?
I add my congratulations to the London Borough of Greenwich on its new status, and I welcome such an important historical area being honoured in this way. I also welcome the striking of a special medal to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, and I hope that on this occasion the long public service given by key parliamentary staff will be recognised. We look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I assure the Lord President that in the midst of a cold, bleak winter he has today provided a little ray of sunshine in this Statement, in which the whole country will take pride. First, to get the matter out of the way, many congratulations to Greenwich. It was represented in Parliament by Gladstone, although, as Roy Jenkins points out in his biography of Gladstone, he never actually visited his constituency.
Interestingly, although the Commonwealth is mentioned in the Statement, there is no mention of consultation with Commonwealth heads of government. Given that the Queen has so often throughout her reign emphasised her pride in and her commitment to the Commonwealth, can we be assured that Commonwealth Governments will be involved in these preparations and celebrations? Taking on the theme of youth, it would be an excellent opportunity to set up a jubilee education fund for the Commonwealth that is associated with the Queen.
The Lord President is far too young, but I remember the 1953 coronation and the street parties and the mugs. We must have both street parties and mugs. My 1953 coronation mug has been lost, so I certainly want a 2012 jubilee mug, and I will be on the look-out for that. The other thing that I welcome is the competition for city status, so that Britain’s premier seaside resort, Blackpool, can join Britain’s number two seaside resort as a city.
Noble Lords cannot hold me back indefinitely.
Out of all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I shall respond to him first. I have never knowingly overlooked the Liberal Democrats, and I do not intend to start now, certainly not this year. He is right in saying that I do not remember the coronation in 1953, as that was the year in which I was born. I am, none the less, very happy to take ministerial responsibility for street parties. Perhaps I shall leave others to take responsibility for the mugs.
I should say to the noble Lord that this will be a celebration not just for all of us in Britain, but also for those across the Commonwealth. That is why I referred to the Commonwealth in my Statement and why we will be sure to involve Commonwealth representatives in the planning.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his very generous comments about Her Majesty the Queen. I am absolutely sure that all noble Peers will want to join him and me in paying tribute to Her Majesty’s extraordinary reign, in which she has been as near perfect during every single moment of that reign as any member of the human race could be.
I remember past jubilees. I remember the 1977 Silver Jubilee very well. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I were leading the British Youth Council at around that time, and worked very closely with the noble Lord, Lord McNally—that eminent political adviser to the then Prime Minister. In particular, I remember how various events and activities across the country brought people together in a national celebration, regardless of any differences that they might have had. The Golden Jubilee celebrations were similarly memorable, as, I am sure, the Diamond Jubilee will be.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for once again suggesting the resurrection of some sort of youth volunteer scheme. I am sure that this will be among the ideas to be considered, but I can give no greater or further commitment than that. He asked about acknowledgment of the Olympics. I should stress that there will be no link between the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympics, although there will certainly be a great summer in the UK. It will start with the Diamond Jubilee and end some months later with the Olympics. Unlike my ministerial responsibility for the Diamond Jubilee, I have no further ministerial responsibility for the Olympics, so I am unable to answer his other questions about how we will welcome them. Contrary to impressions, I do not actually run everything, thank you very much, but I am sure that those who are responsible will be able to take up the point he made.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for being premature earlier. I associate this Bench with all that has been said in appreciation of Her Majesty’s service to this country and in anticipation of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. We in particular have reason to be grateful to her as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and to have valued her clear witness to her own Christian faith, while properly respecting and making space for those of all faiths and none within the citizenry of this country. As the Bishop of Leicester during the Golden Jubilee celebrations, I was able to witness at first hand how the communities—Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish and all the world faiths—warmly responded in a united celebration by the whole city. I am sure that we all anticipate something at least as vivid and celebratory in the proposals that the Minister has brought to us.
I thank the right reverend Prelate for his remarks and his welcome for my Statement. It is very important indeed that the way in which people come together to celebrate this event knows no boundaries right across our society. Across community, class, race or whatever, I am sure that people will want to come together and celebrate this Diamond Jubilee in a very fitting way.
However, I shall speak for my friends here. Would it not be a great opportunity for St David’s Day to be recognised as an official bank holiday in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee? Also, I noted that there was little mention of Parliament. How are we, as a Parliament, going to celebrate? Will it not be an opportunity to have some sort of link between Parliament and the monarchy—an historical pageant even? Perhaps the Minister will consider setting up a working group to see how we in Parliament can celebrate this occasion.
My Lords, I am sure that those who might want to take up the noble Lord’s idea of making St David’s Day a bank holiday will have heard his suggestion. As for the role of Parliament in these celebrations, I am sure that both Houses will want to consider the most appropriate part that they can play and the contribution that they can make to the nation’s celebrations.
My Lords, it is clear that a very large number of suggestions and ideas will have to be considered for this singular celebration, but will the noble Lord give whatever encouragement he can for the earliest possible consideration of tree-planting ceremonies throughout the country? Trees have played a considerable, significant and important role in the Royal Family, who have frequently been associated with such ceremonies in various parts of the country. It would be an admirable gesture if all parts of the country were to mark the occasion with the planting of trees suitable for this environment.
My Lords, I have not read newspaper speculation on the possible ventures that might form the celebrations but, given that respect for the Queen extends not just throughout this country but beyond the Commonwealth throughout the whole world, and given the Queen’s interest in the sport, I wonder whether we might suggest that a new classic horserace be introduced for the Diamond Jubilee. People right across the world would be interested in supporting that and, in turn, would support the British horseracing industry.
My Lords, I knew that the moment I got up to make this Statement very interesting suggestions would come fast and furious. I am sure that creating a sort of European stakes would be appropriate and, knowing of the Queen’s love of horseracing, I have absolutely no doubt that that great sport will play its own special role in the celebrations.
My Lords, I am sure that we all want to offer our congratulations to the Borough of Greenwich on attaining royal borough status, but why has the London Borough of Richmond never been accorded such status? It has, after all, been the home of many monarchs. Queen Elizabeth I died there, George III went mad there, and most of it was my old constituency.
Yet again, I think that those responsible for considering these matters will have heard the noble Baroness’s suggestion. Royal borough status is purely honorific. It is granted by the sovereign personally as an exceptional mark of royal favour. In case anyone is interested, I should say that it confers absolutely no additional funding or powers whatever on the borough concerned. None the less, it is a very important status and I am sure that due consideration will be given to Richmond, although I cannot lead the noble Baroness to expect an early announcement.
My Lords, when approaching something like this, one needs to consider whether one wants to consult widely and for a long period prior to the announcement or whether it is better to make the announcement so that the consultations can follow in a seemly and open way. We have chosen the latter course. Having made the announcement this afternoon, it will now be open, not only to the Government but also to the representatives of the Commonwealth, to have the kind of discussions which the noble Lord asks for.
My Lords, it is heart-warming to hear mention of the Commonwealth. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Queen still represents some Caribbean islands and that many people represent Her Majesty in those islands. I have a particular interest because my sister was the first native-born Grenadian to represent Her Majesty and she did so for six years. I hope that, this time, someone will remember to send such people a letter of invitation or at least recognise the part they have played in representing Her Majesty so ably.
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point which I am sure will attract great sympathy. Over six decades, across the Commonwealth as a whole, many people have contributed to the success and enjoyment of the Queen's reign. Therefore, many people will want to be remembered and want to participate in the celebrations. They will not, of course, all celebrate in London or in this country; they will celebrate in countries and local communities in all parts of the world. That reflects the nature and strength of the Commonwealth and the enormous love which people have for Her Majesty the Queen in so many parts of the world.
My Lords, the Secretary of State was absolutely right to focus our attention on the first weekend in June. I thank him for doing so. I offer him a slightly broader thought. If my memory serves me right, I recall, as a boy, being herded along with thousands of other young people in Belfast to greet the new monarch. Although there will be an element of stress to Her Majesty, I encourage those who make the decisions throughout the course of the year—it cannot be done in a weekend—to enable as many people in the nation as possible to see their monarch on the Diamond Jubilee without having to come to London.
My Lords, what is still so remarkable about Her Majesty the Queen is that so many of her subjects see her in the flesh in so many parts of the country and the Commonwealth. Age seems to be absolutely no bar to her travels and to her contact with people. I have no doubt that that will be the case in 2012 as it has been in every year of her reign so far.
My Lords, will the Minister consider a rather sadder side and bear in mind the fact that the British Empire, represented by the Queen and her father, sacrificed itself to preserve us from tyranny? When the Commonwealth fought Hitler, it collapsed, so the sacrifice of the British Empire should be borne in mind.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an absolutely reasonable point. Of course, no one forgets the sacrifices that countries and individuals have made in fighting for or on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen. That has been the case to date, and I believe that it always will be.
My Lords, if there is to be a Commonwealth dimension to the celebration, I suggest that in any military dimension we should invite contingents from Commonwealth countries. Many of the Asian and Afro-Caribbean citizens of this country have parents or grandparents who fought in the Second World War as elements of other Commonwealth or imperial armies, the largest of which was of course the Indian Army. Those armed forces now provide the dominant contribution to UN peacekeeping forces. We in this country are very bad at linking and symbolising the extent to which our military contribution is now undertaken with other European and Commonwealth countries. That might provide an opportunity to educate our people about how much our contribution in the Second World War and up to today has been in co-operation with the armed forces of other countries with close links to us.
The point about celebrations and commemorations of this kind is that they create an opportunity for us to do all sorts of things—rather as the noble Lord suggested, things that are perhaps out of the ordinary or that would not have occurred to us in normal times, but which we can use this greater and grander opportunity to address. The noble Lord has made a very fitting and suitable proposal.
Child Poverty Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In doing so, I welcome the fact that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford has chosen to make his maiden speech on this measure and look forward to hearing what he has to say.
A decade ago this Government made an historic commitment to end child poverty by 2020. At the time we made that pledge, child poverty was rising inexorably and had doubled over the previous 20 years. Had we simply moved forward with the policies that we inherited, about 2.1 million more children would have been likely to be in relative poverty today. We did not; we chose to act. We acted by investing well over £25 billion in early years and childcare since 1997, with some 3,000 Sure Start children’s centres currently helping 2.4 million young children and their families. We acted by delivering direct tax and benefit measures which, since 1997, mean that in 2010-11, households with children will be, on average, £2,200 a year better off; and households with children in the bottom fifth of the income distribution will be, on average, £5,000 a year better off.
We acted by helping more lone parents into work. Since the New Deal for Lone Parents was introduced, more than 625,000 lone parents have been helped into work, of whom almost 60 per cent have moved into sustainable jobs. We acted by establishing the minimum wage, ensuring that people are not paid a poverty wage. Those and other measures have made a substantial difference to many families, without which many more would be in poverty today.
We have made significant progress in tackling child poverty. We have turned around that upward trend and, by 2007-08, helped to lift 500,000 children out of relative poverty. We have halved the number of children in absolute poverty from 3.4 million to 1.7 million.
Measures announced since Budget 2007 will lift a further 550,000 children out of relative poverty. That includes the announcement in last month’s PBR to extend provision of free school meals to primary school-aged children in low-income working households. That may require primary legislative changes and we are considering whether it may be appropriate to include these changes in the Child Poverty Bill.
Despite substantial progress, there is still a huge amount to do to meet our commitment. Child poverty still blights the daily lives of many—too many—children, families and communities across the UK. A child who grows up in poverty may lack many of the experiences and opportunities that others take for granted, and can be exposed to severe hardship and social exclusion.
Childhood experience lays the foundations for later life. Growing up in poverty can damage physical, cognitive, social and emotional development, which are all determinants of outcomes in adult life. To borrow an expression used by my noble friend Lord Morris in the Queen's Speech debate, this can create “spirals of poverty”, pernicious cycles of inter-generational poverty that lock families into deprivation. Indeed, as my noble friend so aptly stated,
“the spiral continues—never upwards, always downwards. Not only does inequality affect the family now, it affects the future of every member of that family and, perhaps, for generations yet unborn”.—[Official Report, 26/11/09; col. 512.]
We can and must do more to ensure that disadvantage and deprivation do not transmit through generations.
Tackling child poverty will help improve children’s lives today, and it will also enhance their life chances enabling them to make the most of their talents, achieve their full potential in life and pass on benefits to their own children.
Child poverty also places substantial costs and burdens on the economy and on public services. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that child poverty is costing at least £25 billion a year in extra public spending, lost taxes and lost GDP. These costs fall not just on children and families in poverty, but on communities in general and the taxpayer, so it is clear that there is both a strong moral and economic imperative for taking further action to tackle the causes and consequences of child poverty. To do this, we must shape a society where children do not have their lives scarred by poverty and where every child has the chance to realise their potential, no matter what their background.
The current economic circumstances we face have brought additional challenges to tackling child poverty. Everyone recognises it will be hard to meet the target to halve child poverty by 2010, but we will continue to strive to make progress, and the Bill underlines our commitment and determination to succeed.
There are five key aspects of the Child Poverty Bill that I should like to focus on in this Second Reading speech. First, the Bill provides a definition of success in tackling child poverty by setting targets that must be met by 2020. Secondly, it will ensure that targeted and sustained action to address child poverty is taken on a comprehensive basis by requiring the Government to prepare and publish child poverty strategies through to 2020. Thirdly, it will boost the transparency and accountability of government through its reporting requirements. Fourthly, it will ensure that co-ordinated action is taken across the UK by requiring specific action from the devolved Administrations. Finally, it will require action at local level to prioritise the tackling of child poverty and improve outcomes for disadvantaged children and their families.
Clause 1 imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to meet, by 2020, four challenging UK-wide targets set down in Clauses 2 to 5. The targets relate to relative poverty, absolute poverty, combined low income and material deprivation and, finally, persistent poverty. A range of targets is needed to capture the many facets of child poverty, and these four targets have been chosen following rigorous public consultation. The Government already measure progress against the relative, absolute and combined low income and material deprivation measures. The persistent poverty target was included following research demonstrating that long periods of poverty have a particularly damaging effect on a child’s life chances and that the risk of escaping poverty decreases the longer the period in poverty. Taken together, the targets provide a challenging definition of success for tackling child poverty by 2020 and allow progress towards this goal to be measured.
However, the Bill goes much further than just setting targets, important as they are. It establishes a mechanism for driving forward progress towards meeting them by requiring the Government to prepare and publish a child poverty strategy through to 2020. Clause 8 commits the Secretary of State to publish the strategy within a year of Royal Assent, and it must be refreshed every three years. The strategy is for the whole of the UK and should cover all children, so it is not only about meeting the targets but about ensuring that children in the UK do not experience socio-economic disadvantage.
The Bill deliberately avoids being too prescriptive about the content of the strategy. Such specificity would not be appropriate, as each three-year strategy will need to respond to changing circumstances between now and 2020, building on evidence about what works in tackling child poverty. It is envisaged that more specific measures will be considered as appropriate for each three-year phase. However, Clause 8(5) specifies a number of broad policy areas that must be considered when preparing strategies. These encompass the main drivers for tackling child poverty, which have been developed following an extensive period of analysis, discussion and consultation with internal and external stakeholders. I should stress that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of policies. Indeed, there is nothing to prevent consideration of a wide range of policies which may help to end child poverty.
We recognise that the causes and consequences of child poverty are multiple and complex, and that it is not possible to rely solely on one policy measure. Ending child poverty will require co-ordinated and sustained action across all areas of government policy. Noble Lords may be aware that this provision prompted much debate in the other place, with Members seeking to insert additional policy areas. We resisted this approach as many of the proposed areas were already effectively covered in the Bill. There was, however, clear support on all sides that childcare should be more explicitly stated in the Bill, a proposition we accepted by way of a government amendment.
Before I move on to other measures of the Bill, I should like briefly to touch on Clause 9, which requires that the strategy is informed by a range of views, including those of the Child Poverty Commission and the devolved Administrations. There was some concern in another place that the Bill does not spell out our intention to seek the views of children as clearly as it could. Some Members felt that Clause 9(4)(c) should be amended so that the Secretary of State is required to consult such children and organisations working with or representing children as the Secretary of State thinks fit.
We have always been clear that the strategy will be informed by the views of children and their families, particularly those with direct experience of poverty. We are committed to ensuring that children’s views underpin all our policies to improve outcomes for all children. However, we recognise a concern that the Bill could be interpreted as leaving room for the option of not consulting directly with children and we are considering whether it is necessary to clarify the wording on this matter.
Another important aspect is about setting an accountability framework and securing expert, independent advice to inform the development of child poverty strategies. Clauses 13 and 14 require annual reports to Parliament on progress made on the targets and steps outlined in the strategy. This means that the government will, for the first time, be properly held to account for delivery on their strategies to end child poverty.
Clause 7 and Schedule 1 establish the Child Poverty Commission, an advisory body that the Government must consult when preparing child poverty strategies. Clause 9 requires the Government to have regard to the commission’s advice and Schedule 1 requires that this advice is made public. This will ensure that it is clear to Parliament and the public what steps the commission thought were necessary in the development of the strategy. Commission members will be selected on merit against criteria published at the start of the appointment process. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 requires that the Secretary of State will appoint the chair and any such number of members as he sees fit. In addition, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will each appoint a member. In appointing members, paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 requires that the Secretary of State must aim for a commission that has knowledge and experience of child poverty policy, research and work with families. This will ensure that the commission is able to provide the best possible advice on what works best in tackling child poverty.
During debate in another place, Members on all sides pressed the Government to provide the commission with a research function to support its work under the Bill. We were persuaded that using its expertise and experience the commission may identify particular areas where, in order to improve the quality and effectiveness of its advice, it feels new research would be helpful. It may be that the necessary new knowledge can be generated by mining existing research and data from a fresh perspective, or there may be a need to conduct entirely original primary research.
We responded by tabling a government amendment to Schedule 1, which now, through paragraph 10, empowers the commission at any time to request the Secretary of State to carry out or to commission research on its behalf with a view to improving the effectiveness of its advice. This model follows the very successful one used by the Low Pay Commission, an advisory body that is renowned for the quality of its research. This will improve the quality and independence of its advice to the Secretary of State. There are also non-legislative research means at the commission’s disposal. The commission will be provided with a secretariat that will offer librarian-style research support that includes finding, and where necessary collating and summarising, research materials.
The goal to eradicate child poverty by 2020 is UK-wide, although a number of the levers for tackling child poverty are devolved. We recognise that the devolved Administrations are best placed to determine how to tackle child poverty in their jurisdictions in line with their particular priorities. Clauses 10 to 12 separately provide for Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers to prepare their own strategies. These strategies will set out how they will contribute to the UK-wide targets as well as how they will ensure that children in their respective countries do not experience socio-economic disadvantage. Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers are required to consult a range of partners, including the Secretary of State and the Child Poverty Commission, and must prepare annual reports on progress. Our goal is UK-wide, so our approach to tackling child poverty must be co-ordinated across all Administrations. Strategies prepared by the devolved Administrations must also be considered in future UK child poverty strategies.
The Welsh Assembly Government introduced the proposed Children and Families (Wales) Measure on 2 March 2009. The measure places similar duties on Welsh Ministers and other public bodies in Wales to prepare child poverty strategies and to report on progress as the Child Poverty Bill places on the Secretary of State and Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers. Clause 9(5) includes provisions to ensure that the UK Government have regard to the Welsh strategy when preparing a UK child poverty strategy. The Welsh measure also includes provision to consult the Secretary of State on the content of Welsh Ministers’ strategy. The two pieces of legislation therefore complement each other and provide a joint framework to ensure that all four countries work together towards the 2020 goal.
Finally, tackling child poverty is not just a priority for central government; it should also be seen as core business by local authorities and their delivery partners. This view was shared by witnesses to the oral evidence sessions in another place. The justification for this focus is clear; child poverty is present in every locality across the country but is often masked by overall affluence. In many areas, poverty has persisted for generations, damaging the general and economic well-being of the area. Tackling child poverty helps local communities. It will reduce the burdens placed on local services and create a more cohesive society.
Many local authorities have already made a commitment to tackling child poverty, and pockets of excellent work are under way. There are examples of vision and leadership in helping families to get support, in narrowing gaps in education, in helping parents into work or in regenerating communities to help families to escape the experiences of poverty. Unfortunately, progress varies across the country and best practice is not universally shared. We now have to make it a priority for all local areas. Meeting our challenging target therefore requires all local authorities and partners to do more. We know that we can achieve our ambitions only with their absolute buy-in and with child poverty high on their agendas. Clause 20 therefore introduces a new requirement on responsible local authorities and relevant delivery partners to work together to tackle child poverty in their area.
Respondents to the Bill’s consultation indicated that it was important to name the key partners in the legislation. We share this view and have listed the relevant partner authorities in Clause 19. The importance of understanding the needs of local communities was also raised by respondents to the consultation, and we have responded by placing a duty to carry out a local child poverty needs assessment in Clause 21. We intend to set out how local partnerships should carry out a needs assessment in statutory guidance. The Bill will ensure that all local authorities and their partners take strategic, co-ordinated action by requiring them in Clause 22 to prepare joint child poverty strategies based on an analysis of the needs and characteristics of children in poverty in their areas. The Bill also amends the Local Government Act 2000 to ensure that local authorities take the duties under this Bill into account when preparing their sustainable community strategies.
Child poverty is not only a moral issue but also a key component of economic and social prosperity in the UK. It is right that we refresh and strengthen our commitment to deliver on the 2020 goal through the Child Poverty Bill. It will give us a renewed impetus to deliver on our goals, to ensure that the right strategies are in place and to stimulate actions which make a difference. It will build on and sustain the momentum towards eradicating child poverty, create a clear definition of success, put in place a framework for accountability, and improve partnership working and collaboration to tackle child poverty at the local level. We believe this legislation is part of creating a fairer Britain, one where no child suffers from deprivation and every child has the opportunity to aspire and to flourish. I commend the Bill to the House.
My Lords, why did child poverty in the UK stop declining in 2004? It simply should not have happened. Everything was set up to see the measure continuing to improve. We were talking then about the fourth largest economy in the world; that economy was enjoying a major boom, and we had a Government who had focused on the reduction of child poverty as a major policy goal. Whatever criticisms I may have of the Government in this area, I do not doubt for a moment their sincerity in wishing to reduce the levels of child poverty. So why did those improvements go into abrupt reverse in 2004? It is the sociological whodunit of our era.
Let me provide the figures to your Lordships. When this Government came into office in 1997, 4.2 million children were in households below the poverty line, defined as below 60 per cent of median income and using the figure after housing costs. In 2004-05, the best year, the figure had fallen to 3.6 million, but by 2007-08 it had risen again to 4 million. I do not use these figures to make a cheap political point. I do not accuse the Government of callous disregard. The truth is that the Government have been pouring money into the fight against child poverty.
In the first year, 1997-98, transfers in the shape of credits and benefits to households with children stood at £15.5 billion. By our turning point year of 2004-05, they had nearly doubled to almost £29 billion, from which level they have continued to grow. So it is not a lack of government spending that lies behind this disturbing trend. Indeed, the OECD found that by 2003 we were spending more on our children than most other OECD countries.
Let me try to explain these counterintuitive developments. Clearly, there has been an effect from the slowdown in earnings growth since early in the decade. That slowdown has been magnified by the sharp redistribution of income in favour of the richest in the country. It means that the conventional measure of income inequality, the Gini coefficient, rose to its highest level since records began in 1961. I must confess that until I studied these recent numbers closely, I had not realised that new Labour was quite so much the party of the rich. Nevertheless, these factors alone are not enough to explain the disturbing trend in child poverty that we have seen. The clue has been lying under our noses all the time. Perhaps it is not the case that child poverty has risen despite money being transferred to the poorest sections of the community, but maybe the financial transfers themselves have masked poverty and created poverty traps. At this point, let me make it quite clear that, despite Government alarmism, we will retain tax credits. They have been a financial benefit to families but we do not assume, as the Government have in the past, that they are the only answer to child poverty.
There were warnings about the operation of the poverty trap in the 1970s but, as we contemplate what is forecast to be a substantial shortfall from the interim 2010 child poverty target, perhaps we should turn to examine what has more recently been dubbed the iron triangle of benefit reform. For the first time we can begin to assess its impact as a result of the analytical work of the Centre for Social Justice and Oliver Wyman in their recent publication, Dynamic Benefits—a formidable achievement by a working group chaired by Dr Stephen Brien.
The triangle is the closest thing to scientific law in the social sciences and establishes a mathematical relationship between three factors: the level of benefit; the earnings break-even point; and the rate at which benefits are withdrawn. The analysis in Dynamic Benefits offers up the grim warning that,
“there are mathematical constraints on the design of the benefits system. These mean that simply pouring money in will make little difference—and indeed is massively inefficient—and that we must make a normative choice based on a societal vision: a society mostly on benefits or off benefits”.
As it stands, the Bill is two-headed. It contains within it the drive towards income transfers, which has been the hallmark of Treasury strategy in this area, as Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the Permanent Secretary, explained to the Treasury Select Committee in 2007. He said that,
“financial support is the most important lever”.
This is the kind of intervention that our experience since 2004 suggests has broken down—failed. However, the Bill also encourages a wide range of interventions via public services of the kind that is embodied in the Welfare Reform Act that we have just passed. It is this latter aspect of the Bill that we wish to reinforce. Our strategy will concentrate on tackling the causes rather than the symptoms of poverty.
Child poverty is not a concept commonly used in European social policy. This is not surprising as children normally do not have income or wealth themselves. It sounds great; it is a compelling soundbite; and in March 1999, when Tony Blair first announced a goal to end child poverty in a generation, it captured the imagination of the country. However, there are two ideas at war with each other within the soundbite: the first concerns general poverty and minimum standards of living for citizens; the second is about child well-being. It is dangerous to put the two together in the unthinking way that new Labour has done, not least because we risk undermining the strategies that matter most for child well-being. We urgently need to get those strategies sorted out. According to UNICEF we are ranked bottom of 21 rich countries in child well-being despite spending more and being richer than most of them. Not half way; the very worst.
The Child Poverty Action Group recommends a holistic approach to tackling the problem of poverty and pursues the approach now being developed in welfare to work. It states that in the same way it is already recognised that a,
“personalised, multifaceted service is required to assist jobseekers successfully into employment”,
so a similar approach needs to be applied to poverty. This mirrors our strategy—perhaps not surprisingly, given our involvement in developing this policy approach in welfare.
First, let me emphasise the Conservative belief in the importance of tackling poverty. This goes to the roots of one nation conservatism. Secondly, let me confirm that we believe that poverty is indeed a relative phenomenon—in other words, that we should seek to ensure that the poor are not excluded from the mainstream of society. That means a series of strategies to tackle problem areas which have been increasingly well documented in recent years. I particularly want to emphasise the importance of stable families, which has been a central Conservative policy for many years. The number of lone parent households—those most likely to be in poverty—has increased by 40,000 a year for the last quarter century. Yet the Child Poverty Action Group found that,
“the effect of separation on a couple (whether married or cohabiting) in terms of increasing the risk of poverty was much greater than for any of the other triggers that we were able to investigate, including job loss”.
Let me summarise the four problem areas we will target. On family breakdown, our commitment to ending the couple penalty in the tax credits system is just one of a series of measures to tackle this critical issue. The second is addiction to drugs and alcohol. We will put rehabilitation at the forefront of efforts to tackle this problem. The third is education and skills. We will introduce a pupil premium to ensure that extra funds follow the poorest children to the school that educates them. The fourth is work strategy. We will push ahead aggressively to establish outcome-based financing to support those who are economically inactive and able to work back into the workforce.
How would we amend the Bill? Our key concern is that the targets set out in the Bill are poor proxies for achieving the eradication of child poverty. We will aim to widen the agenda and build up targets, which are more likely to address the underlying causes of poverty. Let me spell out our concern about the statutory financial targets. While financial measures can be a useful guide to action, when they become targets we need to look at them with much more rigour. If they are taken seriously, they will inevitably become subject to serious manipulation and may encourage counterproductive activity by the state. There are already disturbing signs of this. According to Save the Children and the IFS, the number of children in severe poverty had been growing even before the 2004 turning-point year, as policy concentrated on pushing those just under the 60 per cent line to just over it. That is exactly opposite to the effect that most voters, appalled by child poverty, actually want to see.
The targets selected for this Bill do not measure the problem accurately enough. A substantial number of families, according to the IFS, manage to remain out of hardship even during prolonged periods of poverty. We see here the distortions created by a set of targets relying in the main on surveys with all the confusion for respondents on what to report. This distortion is undoubtedly compounded by the anxiety that people operating in the black economy must feel in providing accurate information.
Central to the Government's targeting is the OECD reference point of 60 per cent of median income, with a standard equivalence scale. This makes it possible to compare our performance with that of other countries. But we are, I believe, the first country to aim to adopt this figure and scale as a statutory target, and a statutory target carries with it a far higher requirement for precision. First, how genuinely comparable is the figure across countries? It does not include benefits in kind; it does not adjust for the benefits of free healthcare, for instance. There are a lot of apples and pears in the basket.
Does the equivalence scale, which adjusts for different sizes of household, work? Ominously, the IFS found that the modified OECD income equivalence scale may be inappropriate. As Policy Exchange has pointed out, different equivalence scales will generate quite different poverty estimates. These discrepancies really start to matter if we have statutory targets. We will be driven to devote resources to the wrong people. The purely financial nature of the measurement is a real danger. As the OECD publication Doing Better for Children recommended:
“Interventions in early childhood need to be both in cash and in kind…. The higher the risk in the family situation, the more effective … services in kind will be”.
Yet such effective interventions will be discouraged under this legislation. It could also spell the death knell for passported benefits delivered in kind and not included in the measured target.
What is it with round numbers? As a comparison base, using the figure of 60 per cent is not a matter of great moment. As a statutory target, however, it takes on an altogether different significance. The laws of the iron triangle are inexorable. If we wish to reduce the numbers in poverty, we need to set strategies that work within the constraints of the three sides of the triangle, not set one side at a predetermined level that will inevitably not optimise outcomes.
Such considerations will drive the amendments that we will seek. We will want the flexibility to establish financial targets that will work in the real world. We will want targets that capture the real outcomes that we have identified. We will also want a commission that will help us in this strategy. At the moment the membership is locked in. That reeks of a political subterfuge designed to trap a successor Government rather than a measure to help the poor.
My noble friend Lord De Mauley will deal with the role of local authorities and the duties of the proposed new commission in his winding-up speech. We look forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford.
I shall summarise the points that I have made. We have the lowest child well-being in a comparison of 21 rich countries. The Government’s child poverty targeting regime has failed, broken on the iron triangle. This double failure suggests that the next Government must urgently search out and establish an alternative approach. For that reason, our policy in this area will concentrate on the causes of poverty and inadequate child welfare, with particular focus on the four main drivers: family breakdown, addiction, inadequate education and skills, and work. We will seek to incentivise outcomes in these areas, and we will wish to use poverty targets as a guide and spur to performance but not as a driver towards financial manipulation. The difference between our Benches and the Government on child poverty is that we will apply policies to deal with the causes, while all they have to offer are stale and historic soundbites.
My Lords, we on these Benches support the Bill. I thank the Minister for his typical thoughtfulness in making sure that we all had the Peers Information Pack before Christmas, which I found invaluable, although it was not the most exciting holiday reading.
It is difficult to know whether to be pleased with a Bill that has a purpose with which we can all agree wholeheartedly or whether to despair of the structure that the Bill puts in place, which could crush all its good intentions by overloading it with bureaucracy. There are a dizzying number of buzzwords strung together like beads on a chain, such as “targets”, “strategies”, “partnerships”, “building blocks”, “visions”, “assessments”, “principles”, “aspirations”, “outcomes” and so on. Fine words in themselves butter no parsnips. Will the elaborate pathways set out by the Bill lead to real action to eradicate child poverty?
On the plus side, the Bill puts child poverty explicitly further up the political agenda than it has ever been, and the statutory nature of targets in the Bill should ensure that it stays there. It has also given a platform for some interesting and important oral evidence to be heard in the other place, with expert witnesses in key lobby groups—such as the Child Poverty Action Group and Gingerbread, senior local government councillors and officials, researchers from think tanks and academics—all bringing a different perspective on the Bill. There was plenty of discussion not only about what constitutes child poverty but about the definition of a child, which we may well repeat during the passage of the Bill through this House, and what should be done about child poverty, although the Bill itself sadly does not go into what one witness called “solutions mode”.
Several myths were exploded during the evidence sessions, especially where lone parents and poverty are concerned. The first myth is that most lone parents are teenagers, whereas only about 2 per cent are—the average age of lone parents is in fact 36. Another myth is that single parenthood automatically leads to child poverty. In countries with a similar rate of single parenthood, child poverty is much lower than it is in this country. However, it is true that children in single-parent families face twice the risk of poverty facing those in two-parent families. A major cause of that is spelt out in Gingerbread’s written evidence: the fact that median gross weekly earnings for male lone parents is £346 whereas the median for lone mothers, who are the majority of lone parents, is £194.
The Long Title of the Bill states that it sets,
“targets relating to the eradication of child poverty”.
Many people have questioned the novel use of the word “eradication”, which seems to allow for 10 per cent of children to remain in poverty when eradication has been achieved. Perhaps it is a smoke screen to hide the fact that, in 2007, 23 per cent of UK children were in poverty—shamefully, as we have heard, among the worst figures in Europe. The Government’s target, announced by the Prime Minister in 1999, of halving child poverty in 10 years will now certainly not be met. Have the Government introduced the Bill to atone for their failure to deal adequately with child poverty over the past 10 years? Steve Webb, my colleague in another place and an expert in this field, said:
“Tackling child poverty is a bit like running up a down escalator. If we do not do very much, we end up going backwards”.—[Official Report, Commons, Child Poverty Bill Committee, 27/10/09; col. 191.]
Beside that figure of 23 per cent, a 10 per cent target by 2020 looks quite good, if unambitious, and appears to be a sustainable figure compared to equivalent countries in Europe, although it still means that two-thirds of 1 million children will be left in poverty. On top of this figure must be those children not included in the household surveys, such as the 60,000 looked-after children. We recognise that it is very difficult to measure the level of poverty of children who do not live in households, but Richard Kemp, the deputy chair of the Local Government Association, put his finger on an important point when he said:
“If we do not help them early, we know we will be dealing with them for the rest of their lives”.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley will say more about that problem later.
To a layman, the four targets in Clause 1 seem at first glance to be mind-numbing in their subtle complexity and seeming similarity, but with the help of the Peers Information Pack one discovers the differences. We believe that the one target that could be dropped is the absolute low income target. The figures for households below average income—HBAI in the jargon, which we shall come across a lot in the Bill—provide statistics for the preceding 10 years, so, nine years later, poverty is virtually certain to have been improved in that time. In other words, the Government are bound to meet that target without even trying. This is a classic example of picking the low-hanging fruit. Our suggestion is either to drop that target, attractive though it would be to any Government, and substitute it with a different target that measures income after the deduction of housing costs, or to add this as a fifth target. This would not involve more work, because the information is published regularly in the HBAI statistics.
As we all know, housing is a large part of most people’s budget and thus of their living standards. The cost of housing is particularly important in low-income areas, where rents are no lower as a result of the recession but income probably is. It is also important in London and other urban areas, where housing takes a high proportion of people’s income. If it is argued that even poor people can choose whether to live in a more expensive or a cheaper house, evidence shows that this is not the case. People often have no choice about what sort of house they live in, because of constraints over jobs, schools, transport and other factors. Another reason is the curious fact that the measure of income before housing costs includes housing benefit. Unless this figure is discounted, it will look as though a large family receiving housing benefit has a pretty high income, which makes a nonsense of the figures. It also masks the situation in poor rural areas where housing takes up a disproportionate amount of a person’s income.
The Minister may say that housing is included in the questions under the material deprivation measure; so it is, but the questions are only about keeping a house adequately decorated and having enough bedrooms. Housing costs are not stripped out as they would be with an after housing cost target. Kate Bell of Gingerbread said that the sector view has always been that the after housing costs measure of poverty is the better one; Neera Sharma of Save the Children agreed. This is echoed in the summary of consultation responses, under the heading “Targets and measurement” in the impact assessment for the Bill, on page 122 of the Peers Information Pack. The second bullet point reads:
“Measuring income after housing costs was considered by stakeholders to be the best way to determine accurate levels of poverty”.
If the Government themselves continue to collect the after housing costs, this proves that they think that they are worth having, so why not add them as a target for relative low income?
Perhaps the real reason why the Government want to stick with the before housing cost target is that this is the figure used in most of Europe. The Minister in another place said that the ability to make comparisons was vital, as it would allow Governments to benchmark their performance. Is being able to make comparisons with other European countries really the most vital thing, particularly given the problem of apples and pears, about which the noble Lord, Lord Freud, talked? Surely the most important issue is what gives the truest picture of child poverty in this country. We shall introduce an amendment along these lines at the appropriate stage.
I turn to the problems relating to households with either a disabled parent or a disabled child, on which the Bill appears to be silent but which are very important, given the high costs associated with disability. Clause 6 is about various matters to be set out in regulations. We believe that the costs associated with disability should be included at this point. In a nutshell, either disability living allowance should be taken out of the figures to find out what a household’s disposable income is or account should be taken of the higher cost of living for somebody with a disability, which might include increased heating, particularly in this weather, a particular diet, transport, specialised childcare or all of these. If DLA is included in the household’s disposable income, it will surely distort the figures, giving that household a relatively high income with no account being taken of outgoings.
The figures associated with disability are truly shocking. Families with disabled children are more than 50 per cent more likely to be in debt, while only 16 per cent of mothers with disabled children work, in comparison with 62 per cent of mothers with non-disabled children. That is a staggering difference. Barnardo’s says that one in six families with disabled children go without essentials, such as food and heating, due to lack of money. It is often very difficult, if not impossible, for families to find the right childcare for a disabled child, particularly an older child. Any Bill on child poverty—a major part of which is to collect the most relevant and carefully calibrated statistics on household incomes—surely ought to capture the number of households in this category.
I turn briefly to perhaps the most challenging part of the Bill, and that which involves local government in the strategy. Many local authorities, but not all, already have child poverty as a priority in their sustainable communities strategy. There is evident concern that the Government are, with this Bill, passing even more of the buck to local authorities to deliver their policy. We hope that the guidance that the Child Poverty Unit is working on will do more than try to micromanage local authorities, and that the Government will offer more practical help, such as training and support for partnership working. Steve Webb made a telling point when he said that,
“we are setting national targets based on some very specific definitions and then asking local authorities to be partners in delivering targets based on definitions that they cannot access or measure”.—[Official Report, Commons, Child Poverty Bill Committee, 3/11/09; col. 315.]
The link between national targets and local delivery is unclear. Perhaps the Minister can address that problem in winding up.
One matter that interests me particularly is what several local government councillors and officials have said about the benefit system, which is very relevant to child poverty. We heard the old familiar stories about delays and reassessments with benefit claims throughout the country. Local authorities would welcome working with the DWP to provide a more flexible and localised approach to all benefit claims, not just housing and council tax benefits. Can the Minister tell us whether there is any feedback yet on the pilots that I believe are taking place in this area? The way in which the benefit system interacts with, in particular, rules about low-paid and part-time jobs is of crucial importance to whether a family is in poverty. Will the Minister also clarify whether there will be any extra funding at all under the Bill for local authorities?
I have not mentioned many of the important issues to be explored during the rest of the Bill’s passage—such as the importance of consultation with children themselves, and whether Clause 15 weakens the Bill and is a get-out clause for the next Government. I look forward to the rest of the debate, particularly the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford.
My Lords, it is my great pleasure to join in welcoming this important Bill, which could make such a big difference to the lives of so many of our children. I am most grateful for all Her Majesty’s Government’s efforts on behalf of children growing up in poverty. I was grateful to be reminded of the Government’s investment in children’s centres and Sure Start. It is unacceptable that, in a nation as prosperous as ours, so many children continue to grow up in such poverty.
As a reflection on what the Minister said, I regret that there is no strong voice for social work because social workers should surely be the champions in this area. I hope that the investment the Government are now making in social work, including the social work task force and the development of a royal college for social work, may raise the status of the profession and that, in future, social workers will be a powerful voice in eradicating child poverty.
I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, and was pleased to hear what he said about tackling addiction in parents. I was also pleased that he highlighted the UNICEF report and how poorly we perform against all other developed nations in regard to children. I wonder whether he and his colleagues will give special attention to the proposal in the forthcoming schools Bill to put personal, social and health education on a statutory basis. That will contain sex and relationship education. The clear evidence from the Netherlands and the United States is that good quality sex and relationship education reduces the number of teenage pregnancies and will help to achieve the target that the noble Lord wishes of more stable parents and more successful families.
I hope your Lordships will forgive me if, in the interests of brevity, I read from a script on this occasion. As vice-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People In and Leaving Care, I have a particular interest in the children we are speaking of as there is such a strong association between poverty and children being taken into public care. It is hardly surprising to find that where families find their basic needs are not being met, the result can be family dysfunction and risk to the children.
I am utterly persuaded of the need for a strategic approach with a strong mechanism to ensure that strategy is implemented. Governments have too short a horizon, less than five years, before they have to face the electorate again. Issues of this kind so easily get lost. I remind your Lordships of the appalling lack of strategy in the development of sufficient housing for our people. I was grateful to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, raise this issue. It appears that in the sale of social housing no thought was given to our people’s needs. Clearly, there have been other pressures such as immigration and reduction in the size and increase in the number of households, but the failure adequately to plan has had catastrophic consequences. It has contributed to powerful resentment against those incomers who are provided with the housing they need. Many families live in unsuitable, unsanitary, overcrowded accommodation.
A few years ago, visiting families in West Ham with a health visitor, we saw some of these conditions: a mother sharing her one room with her two young children; another mother with three young children and water running down her mildewed walls; a man showing us the flooded basement of his family home; and a father showing us the lavatory which combined as a shower. More recently, again visiting a family with a health visitor, this time in Walthamstow, we spoke to the mother of a seven week-old baby. A lone parent and a refugee, separated from her own family in Africa and with the father of the child expressing no interest in the child's welfare, she shared the kitchen and the bathroom of this accommodation with five other families. Further testimony of our failure to plan to meet the housing needs of our people has been provided to us by users of Barnardo's Families in Temporary Accommodation Project. So many of these families are separated by long multiple bus journeys from their extended families and communities because of the lack of appropriate accommodation in their area. I pay particular tribute to John Reacroft, who has led this project for many years and has supported your Lordships in understanding this area. A proper strategy to address child poverty that is robust, well implemented and resourced is vital if we are to avoid the same failure as we have witnessed in housing.
By contrast, the Government’s rough sleepers’ strategy of 1998 delivered. A clear target was set to reduce rough sleeping to one-third in three years and a robust implementation mechanism was established. Louise Casey was appointed to get this job done. I saw for myself the change that she and the Government wrought. A winter shelter for homeless 16 to 23 year-olds with which I was very familiar was transformed. Prior to 2009, it had seen the least experienced staff working with the most vulnerable young people. The staff were young, some of them were just globetrotters overwintering in the UK and picking up what work was available to them. Among the residents was a young man who had been on the street injecting heroin. His time in the hostel was the opportunity to get him off drugs and into work, training or study and proper accommodation. Another young man had communication difficulties, easily isolated himself and was frustrated at his inability to connect with others. Both of these young men's needs were unmet and the chance to intervene was lost. However, the following year, a crack team of professionals was introduced to the shelter. I had the honour of working with one of them for some time at a later date. I cannot speak for the effectiveness of that team as I was not a visitor to its project, but I am certain that these workers stood a far better chance of intervening effectively and assisting these young men into some meaningful activity and secure accommodation than those present in the previous year had done.
Having clear targets and timeframes and sufficient resources can ensure that the differences we would all wish to see in improving outcomes for our children and young people do happen. Many times I have heard my noble friend Lord Laming call for a clear strategy for children's homes in order to address the shortcomings in that sector. To make a difference we need to make a sustained and focused effort over a number of years and certainly over more than one Parliament.
Turning to the detail of the Bill, I share the concern expressed by Barnardo's and others that the Bill should not miss the needs of the most needy. I hope we can strengthen the targets to ensure they reach down to the most vulnerable and that no especially needy groups are overlooked. Sure Start has proven a great success, but its early efforts were put under a cloud by the first evaluation, which found that it failed to reach the most vulnerable group: teenage parents. In framing this Bill, I hope we can ensure that Travellers, black and ethnic minorities, care-leavers, families of ex-offenders and other important groups are not overlooked.
I welcome the new duties on local authorities and other local agencies to work together to combat child poverty. I would like to be certain that there are sufficient levers to ensure the development of good quality childcare and appropriate accommodation in particular.
I declare my interest as a trustee of the Sieff Foundation. At last September's Michael Sieff conference, Professor Melhuish, Professor of Human Development at Birkbeck College, University of London, made a powerful presentation on the effectiveness of good quality pre-school education on improving the educational attainment of children in deprived areas. He clearly demonstrated that children from similar deprived backgrounds had quite different educational trajectories depending on their exposure to good quality pre-school. In particular, he showed that good quality pre-school care inoculated children against the effects of poor quality primary education. At the age of 11, those children who had experienced good quality pre-school were, on average, doing well in education, whether they had experienced a poor primary school or a good one. Good quality childcare is a key factor in breaking the cycle of failure, and I hope that this Bill will make it more available to families in poverty. Professor Melhuish's presentation on the long-term effects of good quality early years care is on the Sieff Foundation website.
There is much public concern about the increasing prevalence of gang culture and gang violence in some of our communities. Last year, a number of parliamentary groups, including the parliamentary group for children and its chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, whom I see is in her place, met to learn about gang violence. We were addressed by Professor John Pitts, who is a youth worker as well as an academic. We heard from him that what was at the root of this change was the way in which many of our communities had been neglected in recent periods of economic success. The immense disparity and the polarisation between the wealthy norm and these impoverished places contributed to a severe intensification of problems. This provided the breeding ground for the new gang culture, which is so much more virulent and anti-social than in the past. I very much hope that this Bill will help to play a part in recognising these areas and ensuring that they receive the interventions needed to prevent them becoming ghettoes.
I pay tribute to the health visitors who have helped noble Lords to understand these problems over the years, particularly Ros Bidmead, Marilyn Claydon and Dr Cheryll Adams.
To conclude, I applaud the Government for bringing forward this much-needed legislation. Of course, on its own it means nothing, but if local authorities and governments show themselves determined to meet the challenges set out in this legislation it can be an important force for good. I very much regret that I will be absent from your Lordships’ House from 26 January to 5 February but, as far as I am able to participate, I look forward to working with your Lordships to improve the Bill in Committee.
Terrorism: Aviation and Border Security
My Lords, if it is convenient to the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in the House of Commons by the Home Secretary on aviation and border security.
“On 24 December, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen, travelled from Lagos to Amsterdam, where he boarded Northwest Airlines flight 253 to Detroit. As the flight was approaching Detroit on Christmas Day, he detonated a device that was strapped to his upper thigh and groin area, which resulted in a fire and a small explosion. He was restrained and subdued by passengers and flight crew and he remains in custody in the United States.
Authorities in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Yemen are now doing everything they can to piece together Abdulmutallab’s movements shortly before this attack, and are considering what urgent steps need to be taken to prevent further attacks of this nature.
It is an issue of grave concern that the explosive device was not detected by airport security in either Lagos or Amsterdam.
As has been widely reported, Abdulmutallab attended University College, London, between 2005 and 2008, where he completed a degree in engineering. During this time, he was known to the Security Service, but not as somebody engaged in violent extremism. His family and friends have stated their belief that he turned to this during his time in Yemen.
From the information we currently have available, it is not possible to chart with absolute certainty his exact movements after he left the United Kingdom in 2008. He is known to have spent several months studying international business at a university in Dubai, and in August 2009 he travelled to Yemen, where he is thought to have stayed until December before returning to west Africa.
He came to the attention of UK authorities again on 28 April 2009, when he applied for a multi-entry student visitor visa to attend an eight-day course provided by Discovery Life Coaching, based in east London. The UK Border Agency refused his visa application because Discovery did not hold a valid accreditation with a UKBA-approved accreditation body and was not eligible to sponsor international students. Since March 2009, only institutions which are either tier 4 sponsors or hold valid accreditation are permitted to bring in short-term foreign students from outside the EEA. Universities and colleges must be able to demonstrate that they are offering genuine courses that will benefit students seeking to study in the UK. This new regime has reduced the number of institutions able to bring students to the UK from over 4,000 to approximately 2,000. Following the refusal of his application, Abdulmutallab’s name was added to the UKBA watch-list.
In the light of the serious questions this incident has raised, I want to set out today the immediate steps we are taking to tighten aviation security, what measures we are taking to prevent radicalisation in our universities, and the actions we are taking to disrupt al-Qaeda in countries where it is known to be active, in order to prevent future terrorist attacks and to improve co-operation with our international partners.
It is of great concern that Abdulmutallab was able to penetrate airport security at Amsterdam. The device he used had clearly been constructed with the aim of making detection by existing screening methods extremely difficult. Abdulmutallab underwent a security check at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, as do all passengers transferring from Nigeria to another flight. Although Schipol Airport is trialling body scanners, they were not in use for that flight. He passed through a metal detection gate, which would have detected objects such as explosive devices with metallic components, knives and firearms. However, certain types of explosive without metallic parts, and which can be concealed next to the body, cannot be detected by this technology, which is the reason why airports also search passengers at random.
To defeat the terrorist threat requires constant vigilance and adaptability. A great deal of progress has been made in enhancing aviation and border security since 9/11. But terrorists are inventive, the scale and nature of the threat changes, and new technology needs to be harnessed to meet new threats, while minimising inconvenience to passengers.
Last year, we issued new public guidance to the industry on our technical requirements for screening and the detection of improvised explosive devices. The Prime Minister instigated an urgent review of airport security following the incident in Detroit. My noble friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I have been intensively engaged in this review and we are today setting out our initial steps.
It is clear that no one measure will be enough to defeat inventive and determined terrorists, and there is no single technology which we can guarantee will be 100 per cent effective against such attacks. We therefore intend to make changes to our aviation security regime. Air passengers are already used to being searched by hand and having their baggage tested for traces of explosives. The Government will direct airports to increase the proportion of passengers searched in this way. There may be some additional delays as airports adapt, but I am sure the travelling public will appreciate the reasons behind this.
The Transport Secretary has also brought into force new restrictions which tighten up security screening for transit passengers and is reviewing the support we provide for security standards in airports operating direct flights to the United Kingdom. Passengers will also see an increased presence of detection or sniffer dogs at airports to add to our explosives detection capability.
We also intend to introduce more body scanners. The first scanners will be deployed in around three weeks’ time at Heathrow. Over time, they will be introduced more widely and we will be requiring all UK airports to introduce explosive trace detection equipment by the end of the year. We are discussing urgently with the airport industry the best way of doing all this, which will include a code of practice dealing with operational and privacy issues.
BAA has started training airport security staff in behavioural analysis techniques, which will help them to spot passengers acting unusually and target them for additional search. Beyond this, we are examining carefully whether additional targeted passenger profiling might help to enhance airport security. We will be considering all the issues involved, mindful of civil liberty concerns, aware that identity-based profiling has its limitations but conscious of our overriding obligations to protect peoples’ lives and liberty.
These measures build on the substantial progress we have made in recent years to strengthen our borders. The roll-out of e-Borders, which will check passengers, including those in transit, against the watch-list, will be 95 per cent complete by the end of this year. This makes us one of only a handful of countries to have the technology that can carry out advanced passenger data checks against our watch-list before people travel to the United Kingdom.
Those who apply for a visa—whether they do so from Bangkok, Lahore or Pretoria—have to provide fingerprints and their records are checked against our watch-list, which holds over 1 million records of known criminals, terrorists, people who have tried to enter the country illegally or been deported, and those whom agencies consider to be a threat to our security. Through the e-Borders programme and through screening passengers against this watch-list, we have made 4,900 arrests for crimes including murder, rape and assault since 2005. In addition, UK Border Agency staff based overseas working with airlines prevented over 65,000 inadequately documented passengers travelling to the United Kingdom during 2009.
Abdulmutallab’s failed attack highlights the importance of information-sharing between the various agencies about people who pose a threat to our security. The UK watch-list is managed by the UK Border Agency and incorporates intelligence from the law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies into a single index. Although the integrated approach works very well, we want to see whether we can further strengthen it. The Home Office will therefore be conducting an urgent review of the robustness of our watch-list. The review will report to me in two weeks’ time, and I will report, subject to security restrictions, the findings to Parliament.
The House will no doubt also be concerned about the possibility that Abdulmutallab’s radicalisation may have begun or been fuelled during his time studying at University College, London. It is important to remember that the values of openness and intellectual scrutiny and the freedom of debate and tolerance promoted in higher education are some of the most effective ways of challenging views that we may find abhorrent but that remain within the law.
However, we know that a small minority of people supporting violent extremism have actively sought to influence and recruit people through targeting learners in colleges and universities, and we must offer universities the best advice and guidance to help prevent extremism. As part of a measured and effective response to this threat, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published guidance on managing the risk of violent extremism in universities and is working closely with universities in priority areas to provide targeted support.
Alongside this, each university has a designated police security contact that university management can discuss concerns with. The Prevent strand of our counterterrorism strategy works closely with the higher and further education sectors and funds a full-time Prevent officer at the National Union of Students. As I have said, Abdulmutallab’s family believe he turned to violent extremism after leaving the UK, but we need to ensure that this close co-operation continues in our efforts to stop radicalisation of young people in our colleges and universities.
Finally, I want to say something about our work internationally and the steps the Government are taking abroad to disrupt al-Qaeda wherever it is active. Our success in tackling the international terror threat depends on strong relationships with our international partnerships. In our efforts to thwart al-Qaeda, we have a long-standing, productive partnership with the United States.
I am not prepared to go into detail on this particular case about what was shared with the US and when. It is an established and accepted principle that we do not routinely comment on intelligence matters. Moreover, some of these issues are still current and are highly sensitive. However, I would like to clarify that while we did, in line with standard procedures, provide information to the US linked to the wider aspect of this case, none of the information we held or shared indicated that Abdulmutallab was about to attempt a terrorist attack against the United States.
This morning, I met Jane Lute, the United States Deputy Secretary of State for Homeland Security. We discussed how, over the coming months, in the light of this failed attack, we will work together with our other international partners to maintain public confidence in aviation security and deepen our partnership to disrupt al-Qaeda’s activities overseas.
Pushed out of Afghanistan and under increasing pressure in the border areas of Pakistan, affiliates and allies of al-Qaeda—like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group claiming responsibility for the Detroit bombing—have raised their profile. With the failed Detroit attack they have again demonstrated their intent to attack innocent people across the world. The aim of our counterterrorism strategy is not just to reduce our own vulnerabilities, but also to dismantle those terrorist organisations which pose a threat to the UK, whether at home or abroad.
Al-Qaeda will take any opportunity to exploit ungoverned space and instability. Whether the threat is in the Sahel or Somalia, or Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan, we must support Governments and work with partners to address both the threat of attack and the underlying causes of extremism and instability. We have been working with the Yemeni Government for a number of years, helping to improve their law-enforcement, intelligence and security apparatus, to disrupt al-Qaeda, and to deny it a safe haven in Yemen for the future. We are also one of the leading donors to Yemeni development—our current commitment stands at £100 million by 2011. We recognise the need to strengthen further our partnership with countries in the region and beyond, so we can co-ordinate our efforts against al-Qaeda more effectively and provide greater support for the Yemeni people to reject violent extremism. International co-operation is critical to meeting what is a global threat. The coming together of the international community in London later this month to discuss Yemen will be an important step towards security there and across the globe.
It is important to reiterate that this was a failed attack by a Nigerian national on the United States, by someone who was refused entry to the United Kingdom and who it seems was radicalised after he left this country. However, there are lessons to be learnt by the international community and the measures I have outlined will provide the United Kingdom greater protection from terrorist attack. Along with our work overseas with our international partners, enhanced airport security and more thorough collation of intelligence, we will be able to strengthen our efforts to tackle the root causes of violent extremism and reduce the threat of future attack”.
I commend this Statement to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and I am grateful for advanced sight of it.
The failed terrorist attack on Christmas Day was a wake-up call. The terrorist threat continues to evolve, as he rightly said, and to adapt. As I have said before, following the Mumbai attacks, terrorists actively seek to understand and to counter the capabilities of our security services. They innovate tactically to obviate security measures and confuse authorities, so being ahead of them in preventing, responding to and recovering from potential attacks is of the utmost importance. We cannot always be in catch-up mode.
We must also expect that more and more countries will be used as a base by terrorists, particularly as pressure on them in Afghanistan and Pakistan increases. There will be a greater number of points of origin for people travelling to the UK that represent a danger to us and where precautions have to be taken. We welcome the assistance that the Government are providing to Yemen, but it is a pity that the Government made that announcement without telling our American partners that they were going to do so. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are identifying what other countries may need to counter terrorism and in capacity-building assistance? Again, I come back to the point about not always being in catch-up mode.
The Minister mentioned a number of measures that will be introduced to improve airport security, including greater searching of passengers by hand, the increased presence of sniffer dogs and the introduction of full-body scanners. He also mentioned that new restrictions had been introduced for transit passengers, but he did not say what those were. Will he do so? We accept that such additional measures should be put in place at airports, but why has the introduction of some, such as full-body scanners, been so long delayed? To my certain personal knowledge, that technology has been available for at least 10 years.
The Minister said that the first tranche of those scanners will be deployed within three weeks, but I know that at least one key industry player suggests that certain models will be available only between four and six months from now. One wonders how long we will have to wait to reduce vulnerability from that aspect of the threat. There are many months before we get coverage—which, I think everyone agrees, will not of itself necessarily deal with the threat encountered the other day, but will nevertheless reduce the scope for evasion. How long will it be before we have not just the introduction but proper coverage of body scanners at our major airports?
The core of the issue is surely to prevent dangerous passengers getting on to planes in the first place, and preventing them getting on to planes in other countries. Technologies can mitigate that threat, but they are not, we can agree, foolproof. It seems unlikely that the body scanners currently available would have picked up the substance which that young man had put around his body, so I am glad that the Minister agrees that we need a risk-based approach to passenger security checks. That must be intelligence-led, based on assessments of the threats posed by or from within particular countries and by particular travel routes, and on observation of suspicious behaviour. The US, for example, has designated certain flight routes for additional checks. Will the Government also do that?
The second key aspect is international co-operation in preventing the travel of dangerous or potentially dangerous individuals. The Minister referred to the robustness of the UK Border Agency’s watch-list. As he said, it has a lot of names on it: 1.3 million. As far as I know, those names are uncategorised. Is it realistic to suppose that our security services can effectively target individuals using that system? Will it be reformed in any way? The Minister said that the Government were looking at that. It would be helpful to know what aspects of it are under consideration.
A related point is the stark fact that the UK does not have a no-fly list, unlike the US. Does the UK have the information and the intelligence base sufficient to put in place such a list, which would then be genuinely useful? There is no point in having a list that does not necessarily have an information base behind it. Is enough advance passenger information being collected by the UK? As I understand it, our systems are not the same as those of the US. The Minister did not make entirely clear when the e-Borders programme will be fully operational. To what extent does he think that that will be helpful in this area?
How have the Government worked with the US Administration, who have conducted their own reviews, to ensure that their findings and the security standards and procedures they are introducing are consistent with developments here? The US is obviously our most important partner in many respects. Particularly on the electronic side, the Americans have been in the lead. It would be helpful to know the extent to which the US reckons that its collaborative partner and the one where the standards have to be met is the UK. What other countries are involved in, or are being drawn into, the findings of these reviews? It is clear that ultimately the issue is international.
This attempted attack also demonstrated the continued challenges posed by radicalisation. The lesson here is that academic institutions have to get real about this challenge and the terrorist threat. No one in this House wishes to see academic freedom reduced, but terrorism poses a threat to the very values that universities stand for, so educational establishments must help in identifying those who are vulnerable to extremism that can lead to violence. If the Minister were able to say what targeted support the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is lending, it would be helpful.
Finally, press reports suggest that the Prime Minister misled the public and the US about the information provided to the US authorities. I note that the Minister is not prepared to go into detail but he told us, correctly, that it is an established and accepted principle that the Government do not routinely comment on intelligence matters. Therefore, one has to wonder why the Prime Minister made these public remarks. It must be uncomfortable for the Government to be told by the White House that they made a mistake. Tackling the terrorist threat that we face requires public trust and confidence and the trust and confidence of international partners. These are the sort of remarks that risk damaging both.
These attacks remind us that the terrorist threat remains severe. We must continue to be vigilant and united to defeat it. The threat is posed by a small number of deadly extremists who do not speak for the majority of Muslims in this country or around the world. We must make this distinction. People of all faiths have been victims of terrorists over the past decade, and it must be our common endeavour across all communities to overcome them.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and for making it available beforehand. I do not propose to question him about security measures because I do not think he would wish to answer any questions. I realise that this is a very sensitive subject. However, one thing that I reflect on from reading and hearing the Statement is the fact that a great deal of emphasis is being placed on the airport authorities—on BAA—and on delays at airports and the inconvenience to passengers. I wonder to what extent consideration is being given to involving the long-haul airlines more closely. They have passenger manifests days or weeks in advance of the flight. To what extent are those manifests subject to checks to ensure that anybody who is in any way undesirable, and I use that word in its broadest sense, is prevented from flying? If the manifests are checked properly, we should have weeded out most of those who are a danger by the time that people are arriving at the airport. It seems that whatever sophisticated device we install at airports, it is bound to cause trouble, delay and frustration. I feel that we need to make a fresh breakthrough so that we can spot these people before they get in a queue at the airport.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their comments. The noble Baroness rightly said that this is a wake-up call. The need to adapt is constant because the nature of the terrorist threat changes constantly. Although she is absolutely right to say that some particular areas highlighted by the Detroit attack are important for future development—including body scanners, which she mentioned in particular—I would not accept that we have been slow to adapt. We constantly adapt and change our security apparatus at airports and our security apparatus nationally, including e-borders and the development of the watch-list, to meet the threat.
While none of us is complacent, I am glad to say that, in this particular case, this individual was not granted a visa to come and study in this country. The visa regime did work. The course for which Abdulmutallab applied was not at a properly accredited institution, so he did not get a visa to come to this country. We need to ensure that the robustness of our security regime continues to apply in this way case by case. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, said that this is a particular issue in respect of aviation security. That is a massive challenge for us. More than a quarter of a million passengers leave British airports every day. There are 110 flights to the United States alone. Ensuring that the system works well and does not fail is a massive undertaking. On behalf of the whole House, I should like to pay tribute to the security staff and the airlines. They make this system work day in, day out. There is also a considerable amount of public pressure in the situations with which they have to deal. They do a splendid job. However, we need constantly to improve the quality of the service that we provide as we deal with new threats.
The noble Baroness asked me a large number of questions and I will go through as many of them as I can. She asked about co-operation with the United States. Jane Lute, the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, is in London today. She met my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and me this morning and we exchanged a good deal of useful information about future policy developments. Our relative officials and experts have been in constant dialogue both before Christmas and, since Christmas Day, about the issues raised by Detroit. She was proceeding to Brussels, where she will be consulting further with our European partners. Janet Napolitano, the US Secretary of Homeland Security, plans to meet European Transport Ministers soon to discuss a number of the specific issues being raised by the sorts of changes we need to discuss in aviation security and to exchange the thinking in our respective countries about how to tackle this threat.
I am satisfied that the degree of co-operation and co-ordination is high but we need continually to improve it. It is important, for example, to discuss, bilaterally and multilaterally, many of the issues to do with the regulation of new technology. It is no good us having enhanced security regimes in place at our airports if they are not in place at the airports from which flights are departing to come to this country. A good deal of international activity will therefore be required as well. We provide international aid, assistance and technical advice to countries where we think there may be vulnerabilities in airport security in order to ensure that proper standards are met. We are looking at how we can improve that technical advice and assistance and at how we can do so in a co-ordinated way with the United States and our partners. Good work is taking place in this area, but we need constantly to raise our game. We are not in any way complacent.
The noble Baroness asked me about e-borders. The e-borders scheme will be 95 per cent operational by the end of this year, so we are making very good progress on putting that in place. She asked me about transit passengers. Under the regulations which I brought into force on New Year’s Day, transit passengers will henceforth be treated in precisely the same way as transfer passengers. All transit passengers—passengers on a flight which is continuing to a destination beyond the United Kingdom but who are not changing flight—will be subject to the full search and security regime applicable for transfer passengers. They will need to be searched, as will their hand baggage, and they will not be able to proceed on the flight until that has taken place. That will affect about 30 flights a week, so it will be a significant further enhancement of our security arrangements.
The noble Baroness asked me why body scanners had been delayed. We have been trialling body scanners. My noble friend Lord West, whom I am glad to see in his place, last year issued a paper to the industry with innovations and ideas on countering this terrorist threat and highlighting areas in which we wish to see enhanced collaboration between universities, the private sector and the Government on new technologies. A whole part of that document was on screening apparatus, so we have been highlighting this as a priority and trialling the technology.
Other countries were not way ahead of us. As we saw, the Netherlands has since Christmas Day brought full-body screening apparatus into operation where it was not in operation before. We are looking to do the same, and we will move with all deliberate speed in so doing. The first full-body scanners will be operational at Heathrow within a matter of weeks. I cannot give a precise timescale for extending that operation across the airport sector of the UK, but we intend to move as rapidly as we can thereafter, consistent with good operational practice and the industry’s ability to develop products that are of sufficiently high quality.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked about the work that we do with airlines. There is already a well-established system for notifying passenger data in advance. The watch-list to which the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, referred is an integral part of the process of granting visas, and is in effect a device that allows people to travel or not to travel. Indeed, the watch-list and the data that come from airlines are fully integral to deciding whether people can enter the country and therefore fly.
The radicalisation of students at universities is a very sensitive area. In all my experience, formerly as an Education Minister and as a Transport Secretary now, I have been impressed by the seriousness with which university authorities take this issue. They are in no way complacent. Noble Lords who heard Professor Malcolm Grant, the provost of UCL, interviewed on the “Today” programme a few days ago will have been struck by the seriousness with which he takes his responsibilities in this area. As he said in that interview:
“We are obliged … to secure freedom of speech on campus”,
“We walk a very narrow line between … that”,
“ensuring that nothing occurs which would result in the incitement of racial hatred”,
and he spelled out steps which the university had taken, including uninviting radical speakers who might have provided such incitement in the case of his own university.
Other university leaders have similar stories to tell. Universities have the power to ban speakers from their premises when they believe that those speakers will incite hatred. They take these responsibilities seriously. They are working very closely indeed with the Prevent strategy and are directly supporting the work of the National Union of Students and Islamic student organisations to combat the threat that is posed, and we are satisfied that they are extremely vigilant in their responsibilities in this area.
To conclude, it is very important that we make the point loudly and clearly from this House that the Muslim mainstream majority in this country abhors the terrorist threat every bit as much as every other citizen in this country does. We are all united in seeking to combat this threat. No one could have made that clearer than the Muslim Council of Britain, which, on the day after the attack, condemned it in the strongest terms. Its secretary-general, Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, said:
“We all have a collective duty to stand against those who wish to perpetrate terror against innocent civilians wherever it may occur. Terror and violence is not the way to convey a message however legitimate the cause may be. It is totally counter-productive”.
That is the view of the mainstream Muslim majority in this country and of all other citizens in this country, and we work with the Muslim community as much as with the wider community to combat this threat at its very source.
My Lords, while I welcome what my noble friend said about profiling, I thought I heard him say not that he was going to introduce a system of profiling, but that he was going to start a study on the introduction of such a system. If that is the case, will we have to go through a period of consultation? How long is that likely to be and who is going to be consulted? Moreover, can we take it that in no way will Her Majesty’s Government be put off from introducing a profiling system, which can be of enormous benefit to honest, regular travellers who are unnecessarily being hugely inconvenienced these days, merely by complaints from certain people who think they might be unfairly treated?
My Lords, as I said in the Statement, BAA has from this week started training staff in the identification of suspicious behaviour and seeing to it that all passengers exhibiting such behaviour are fully screened and, where necessary, subject to further procedures. So we are not holding back at all from action in this area. However, we need to ensure that it is the right action, and that is what we are considering seriously. I can assure my noble friend that we are not holding back from taking appropriate action because of concerns about how this might be regarded by the public, because we have no doubt at all that they will welcome proportionate steps that safeguard their security as they pass through our airports.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. Would the Minister agree with me that tactical profiling has in fact been in use by the police and the intelligence services in this country to great effect for a very considerable time and is well developed? Further, would he join with me in welcoming the spread of tactical profiling by teaching behavioural analysis to airline staff? Does he share the view that tactical profiling has been dealt with sensibly by the control authorities in this country in consultation at times with black and minority ethnic groups? Does he also share the view that scanners and other machinery, as well as detection dogs, although useful, are no more than a supplement to well-organised, accurate, properly funded and appropriately shared intelligence?
My Lords, I agree completely that scanners and all forms of aviation security are only one part of the effort that we need in this area. There must be constant vigilance in terms of our security efforts including, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said, looking to see how we can improve the way that we maintain and deploy the watch-list, and we need vigilance in all the institutions where there might be a danger of extremist activity taking place. Those responsible for running the institutions should take appropriate action to nip in the bud extremist activity as soon as it exhibits itself.
On prioritising passengers about whom there may be concerns for search at airports, as I made very clear in the Statement, we welcome unreservedly the decision of BAA to start systematically training airport staff in the identification of suspicious behaviour and seeing that such passengers are properly targeted for search procedures, and we are looking at how such techniques could be extended more widely.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement, which a lot of us will have found encouraging in the difficult circumstances. I want to ask him two questions that arise from it. First, if my memory is right, the Minister said that the operation of the new security arrangements was going to be subject to a code of practice. Those of us who have been privileged to serve in government will have been disheartened by that because a code of practice is probably the least effective and most lax arrangement that can be chosen. Would he be willing to reconsider that and put in place a more robust framework for these important new security operations?
Secondly, I shall also turn to the question of profiling. As someone who once held the Minister’s post, I am well aware of the debate about profiling, but I think the time has come to get on with it. BAA is introducing something that as far as it goes is fine, but the Government cannot stand aside and let a commercial organisation take responsibility for profiling, not least because BAA does not run all the airports in the country. Therefore I encourage the Minister to let it be known that profiling is government policy and to put his shoulder behind a variety of efforts, all of which should be based on profiling given the intelligence that is available to him, and not to conduct any more public debates about it. He should just do it; that is what the public want.
My Lords, as the noble Lord said, he has held my office in the past and I therefore take very seriously any comments he makes about airport security and how we should take it forward.
On the code of practice, I should make it clear that we are talking about the regime in which full-body scanning will operate. Because a number of sensitive issues are raised by the practice of full-body scanning, the airport authorities look to the Government to put in place a regime within which they can provide the proper training of staff and the supervision that will be required for the operation of full-body scanning equipment. This is not a substitute for a robust system of applying full-body scanning; it is the means by which such a system will come into operation. Obviously there are important issues about how staff are trained and supervised—for example, how images are treated and what happens to them after they have been made—which are of concern to the public. Such issues do not stand in the way of the introduction of full-body scanning but Parliament would expect the Government to pay proper attention to the regime to ensure that full-body scanning is done in a responsible way in which the public can have confidence, and that the practice of full-body scanning and its images is not abused. That is what the code of practice will do.
There is not an issue as to profiling. I could not have made more clear in my Statement that it is right that passengers who fall into defined risk categories should be subject to appropriate screening. The question is how one identifies that. The most obvious case is those who exhibit behaviour at an airport that gives rise to concern. The whole process of the watch-list and how that regime operates acts as a way of identifying risk groups even before they get to the airport.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I should say, first, that I am the president of the British Airline Pilots’ Association. Who of those involved directly with aviation have been or will be consulted about the issues that concern the House of Lords today? As to BALPA, does the Minister agree that airline pilots are probably the most uniquely well-qualified to advise on what can best be achieved on or within aircraft? Secondly, how is the European Cockpit Association—which is the umbrella organisation for European pilots—to be consulted? It is most important that it should be.
My Lords, TRANSEC, which is the transport security division of my department, consults widely with the aviation industry before making changes in security practice. I cannot tell my noble friend precisely which organisations have been consulted or whether they include the ones that he mentions. However, I note the point he makes about the great expertise that airline pilots have in this area and I shall ensure that that is taken full account of.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s Statement on this issue; it is right and proper that they should do everything possible to protect their citizens. I have two questions. The Minister has just referred to body scans, which are an intrusion into the privacy of an individual. It is for this reason that some communities are culturally sensitive as to what could happen to them. What kind of training programme will be available for those responsible for taking the scan and, more importantly, will the code of practice be available for us to see to make sure that such scans are not abused?
Secondly, there is a need to take great care over racial stereotyping. As I have been advised again and again, and as the Minister knows, this could be against the Race Relations Act. Will the Minister ensure that much of the scanning and requirements regarding the passengers are based on intelligence received and that stereotyping will in no way form a part? If not, we will have the same problem as we had in relation to stop and search in this country with regard to black and ethnic minority communities.
My Lords, the noble Lord’s last remarks were very well made and I fully endorse them.
I shall make the code of practice on the conduct of full body scanning available to the noble Lord and to the House as soon as it is available. It is the responsibility of the airport operators themselves to train their security staff, or to see that they are properly trained, when they engage staff on a contract basis, to see that they meet the standards that apply. My department has a large team of inspectors who visit the airports frequently. They observe and report on the quality of the security staffing arrangements in place, and where they have concerns they are reported immediately to the airport operators and remedial action is expected to be taken.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for referring to the care that the universities have taken. I know that that is particularly true of the University of Bradford, where there is a large minority of Muslim students. Does the Minister agree that those suggesting that Abdulmutallab was radicalised in the Yemen were being slightly ingenuous? Radicalisation does not happen overnight or in a few weeks but over several months and several years. I was in Pakistan in December, which was an interesting and not very comfortable experience, given that terrorist bombs were going off practically every day, although mercifully not where I was. I was interested to speak to a large group of students in one of the universities there, and was aware of the intense anti-American feeling among students. The majority of Muslims in this country are under 25. They are young people. While universities might ban meetings of Hizb ut Tahrir, these meetings then take place elsewhere, privately. Leaders of mosques tell me that there is no radicalisation taking place there, but there are the radicals across the road waiting to meet young students to try to affect them.
I am sure that the Minister would agree that the whole process of turning young, disaffected Muslims into not only radicals but terrorists is one that the whole of our society needs to counter. I want the Minister to assure me that he takes this radicalisation seriously as something that we need our whole society to be involved in and not simply a few people.
My Lords, I take the right reverend Prelate’s points very seriously. It is precisely for the reason that he gives that we have the Prevent strategy, which is substantially funded and has been doing excellent work. Only at the end of last year, a big conference in Birmingham was attended by more than 1,000 people, all of them engaged in Prevent, including a large range of Muslim organisations, the police, the Prison Service and others. That demonstrated the wide and very constructive work being done across our universities and our wider civil society to tackle the root causes of extremism and promote those shared values of tolerance and civilised life, which the overwhelming majority of people in this country share in common, whatever their creed or racial background.
We all welcome the co-operation shown in the Statement between the Home Office and the Department of Transport.
The Statement suggests that these are initial steps. Initial steps usually mean that there are follow-on steps. There have been clear indications today about some of those, but does the Minister intend to come back to the House in the relatively near future with indications of any other steps that need to be taken and the value of those that have been taken, particularly with regard to scans, which have been touched on, and which I gather are expensive and not always as robust and useful as they are meant to be? Perhaps we ought to have a look at that and see how widely they are being used.
With regard to fly lists, does this country have the means to obtain sufficient advance passenger information to do that?
My Lords, there will be further steps. Some of them will be operational, and therefore it would not be appropriate for me to go into detail in respect of them. Where there are important further steps that have a public policy dimension, however, I will keep the House informed in whatever is the most appropriate way. I have already undertaken that in respect of the full-body scanning, which I know is an issue of sensitivity about which concerns have been raised in the House, the code of practice will be made available to noble Lords. Indeed, I will be happy to discuss with noble Lords, individually or collectively, issues that arise from that.
We believe that we have the means in place to prevent people from coming to this country who we do not wish to see here on the basis of intelligence material made available to us. That is the basis of our watch-list, and we believe that it is sufficiently robust for the purposes.
My Lords, this gives me no satisfaction, but I raised this whole matter as a potential scenario in a series of Written Questions in 2007. Is there any concern about bomb-making capabilities being assembled from goods purchased in duty-free shops? How satisfactory is the screening process of goods being delivered for duty-free sales?
My Lords, we keep all these matters under review. However, subject to the wider aviation security procedures that are in place—a key proviso—including requirements in respect of the screening of items, we believe that our systems are satisfactory in respect of duty-free goods.
My Lords, as a Muslim I totally condemn any form of terrorist activity. We must appreciate that nearly all Muslims are law-abiding citizens, but I accept that we have a problem with a tiny minority. With regard to profiling, I would like to hear from the Secretary of State that Muslims are not going to be targeted with regard to profiling, about which there has been some talk recently in the press.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for explaining the new facilities and tightened security at UK airports, which should mean that flights departing from the UK should be much safer in future. He mentioned the co-operation with airports in other countries worldwide, but I do not believe that he has any powers to ensure or check on the security in those airports, which could be operating flights to the UK. Does he have the powers to ban flights from particular airports in other countries when he thinks that the security is not up to standard?
My Lords, when the Minister spoke about profiling, he talked about people behaving “unusually”. I was puzzled about that phrase. What might it mean? If it means beating out flames on your body, that is one thing, but it might refer to something really quite simple. Will he give us a little more guidance on that?
Secondly, many of us were impressed by the fact that this young man’s father had warned the American Government about the dangers of what he was involved with. That must have been a brave and almost shaming thing to have to do. Do we listen to evidence of that kind that is brought to our Government, and do we take any notice of it?
My Lords, we take full notice of all information that is given to us that raises security concerns, from whatever source it comes.
With regard to unusual behaviour, unusual travel plans are a specific case in point that could give rise to additional searches—for example, passengers purchasing tickets with large sums of cash and travelling with minimal luggage. Characteristics of that kind could give rise to legitimate concern about an individual and therefore a perfectly proper desire to see that they are properly searched before they proceed on their journey.
Climate Change: Copenhagen Conference
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about December’s Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, at which I represented the United Kingdom alongside my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
Today I want to report back to the House and set out where we go next in the global battle against climate change. Let me say at the outset that the outcome of Copenhagen was disappointing in a number of respects. We are disappointed that Copenhagen did not establish a clear timetable for a legal treaty, and that we do not yet have the commitments to cuts in emissions that we were looking for. However, the accord agreed at Copenhagen does mark significant progress that we can build on, and I want to explain how.
The Copenhagen accord, which is available in the Library of the House, was agreed by a group representing 49 developed and developing countries that together account for more than 80 per cent of global emissions. It endorses the limit of 2 degrees of warming as the benchmark for global progress on climate change. Unlike in every previous agreement, not just developed but all leading developing countries have agreed to make specific commitments to tackle emissions, to be lodged in the agreement by 31 January. And for the first time, so that we can be assured that countries are acting as they say they will, all countries have signed up to comprehensive measurement, reporting and verification of progress.
On finance, there are significant commitments made by the rich world to developing countries. This includes fast-start finance worth $10 billion dollars a year by 2012, with a total of up to $2.4 billion from the UK, and specific support to tackle deforestation. In the longer term the accord supported the goal, first set by the Prime Minister, of $100 billion a year of public and private finance for developing countries by 2020.
By any measure these are important steps forward, but we know that the world needs to go much further. We need more certainty and a greater scale of ambition. So the urgent task ahead is to broaden, deepen and strengthen the commitments made in Copenhagen, drawing on the large coalition of countries that wanted more from the agreement.
Broadening the commitments is vital. Forty-nine countries are not enough. To tackle this global problem we need a wider group. The United Nations is seeking to persuade all countries to sign up to the accord and the UK will play its part in making that happen.
In addition, we must act to deepen the commitments on emissions made by countries across the world. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, has shown that if nations make the biggest emissions cuts in the range that they have put forward, we can be within striking distance of the 2 degree pathway that we need, including the peaking of global emissions by 2020.
We know that this is in our economic as well as our environmental interest. Greater certainty about emissions is necessary to provide the strongest incentive to business, including through the carbon price. So we will work to persuade other countries that we all need to show the highest levels of ambition on emissions as part of the commitments that we make. For Europe, provided that there is high ambition from others, that means carrying forward our commitment to move from 20 per cent to 30 per cent reductions by 2020 compared to 1990. We must also act to strengthen the accord, including by continuing our efforts to secure a legally binding framework.
In taking on clear commitments and actions, we should recognise how far major developing countries have come, but we must allay their concerns that they will be constrained from growth and development by the demands of a legal treaty. We must draw on the coalition between some of the world’s richest developed countries and some of the world’s poorest developing countries, such as Ethiopia and the Maldives, all of which want a legally binding structure.
Strengthening the accord also means that richer countries must make good on the promises made on fast-start finance to 2012, and show that we can fully fund the longer-term $100 billion goal—one of the tasks for the high level panel on sources of revenue that was agreed in the accord. These efforts to make progress on substance must be accompanied by reform of the process of decision-making.
The conference was held up by disagreements over procedure: which text negotiators should look at and whether, as in Kyoto, a representative group of countries could be formed to avoid having to discuss everything in a plenary of 192 nations. These disputes about process meant that it was not until 3 am on Friday, the last day of a two-week conference, that substantive negotiations began on what became the Copenhagen accord. By then, there was simply too little time to bridge some of the differences that existed, so we need to find better ways of running the process of negotiation. I welcome the UN Secretary-General’s decision to look again at these issues.
We also welcome the decision by Chancellor Merkel to host a conference as part of the mid-year negotiations in Bonn, and will work with the incoming Mexican presidency, who will be hosting COP16 in November. But dialogue and negotiations need to restart before June, something that I made clear to the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change when I met him just before Christmas in London.
In looking back at Copenhagen, we must bear in mind that agreement was inevitably tough because we are seeking consensus among 192 countries. Like most ambitious efforts, it was always going to be difficult to succeed first time round. But we should not let frustration with the two weeks at Copenhagen, albeit justified, obscure the historic shift which this past year has marked. I want to pay tribute to the enormous effort of those in the UK, from the scientific community, civil society, British business and from the general public who have mobilised on climate change. Their ideas and energy helped drive us forward over the past 12 months and during the Copenhagen conference itself. Let me assure them and this House that we are determined to strengthen and sustain the momentum behind the low-carbon transition in the UK.
Building on our low-carbon transition plan, a world-leading policy on coal, and our plans for nuclear, in the coming weeks and months we will be making further announcements on energy generation, household energy efficiency and transport, and following Copenhagen, as part of the work already ongoing on the road map to 2050, we are looking at whether further action is necessary to meet our low-carbon obligations and will report back by the time of the Budget. This will include looking at the advice of the Committee on Climate Change published last autumn.
Internationally, thanks in large part to the deadline of Copenhagen and the mobilisation behind it, every major economy of the world now has domestic policy goals and commitments to limit their greenhouse gas emissions: the US, China, Japan, Russia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, South Africa, and of course the EU. Throughout the world, policy is now set to improve energy efficiency, to increase investment in low-carbon power, to develop hybrid and electric vehicles and smart grids, and to reduce deforestation. So while Copenhagen did not meet our expectations, 2009 did see the start of a new chapter in tackling climate change across the world.
This global shift may not yet have found international legal form, but scientific evidence, public opinion and business opportunity have made it irreversible. In 2010 and in the years ahead, this Government and, I am sure, the vast majority of this House are determined to ensure that we redouble our efforts to complete the unfinished business of Copenhagen. Climate change remains the biggest global challenge to humankind. It requires a global solution. We owe it to our children and their children and the generations that come after to find it. The work has started, it will continue this year and it will succeed. The fight against climate change will be won. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement here today. I echo my honourable friend's remarks in another place regretting the absence of the Prime Minister. We welcome the Prime Minister's personal involvement in the debates in Copenhagen and it is unfortunate that he has not chosen to report back himself to Parliament on what he achieved. His absence says a lot about how disappointing the Government judge the outcome of the talks actually to have been.
In December, through various press releases and articles, the Government gave a damning indictment of the whole process. The Prime Minister labelled the process “chaotic” and “flawed” and the Secretary of State for Energy noted “serious, substantive disagreement” remaining between countries. Many of those criticisms have just been repeated in another place and by the Minister here today.
By any measure, Copenhagen has been a disappointment. There was, as ever, a lot of talking but very little of the concrete and binding agreements that we need so badly. There is no agreement over the level of emissions that must be cut and by when. There was no clarity on where the money is to come from to finance the adaptation to the changing climate that all agree is critical and there was no binding agreement on how to preserve the world's remaining rainforests.
The Minister has worked hard to make this Statement sound optimistic and forward-looking and I agree that there is much more that needs to be done. We must continue to focus all our efforts on achieving the commitments that proved so elusive last month. The Minister talked of strengthening the agreement and making it legally binding. Surely he agrees, however, that much more work must be done to resolve the many outstanding areas of disagreement before anything meaningful can be made legally binding. What steps will the Government take to bring round those countries which have yet to sign up to the accord? What progress has been made on those areas that did not even make the accord?
I am happy to see that there was little of the blame game in this Statement that the Government indulged in last month and I hope that this marks a new understanding on the part of the Government that developing countries do not, will not and cannot be expected to prioritise carbon emission cuts over the well-being of their populations. On these Benches, we have always seen the development of a sustainable green economy as part and parcel of building a strong economy in the future. There need be no conflict between strong growth and sustainable growth and we must seize the opportunity now of developing technologies and establishing the infrastructure that will allow us to cut our carbon emissions and provide the cheap and secure energy supplies that we will undoubtedly need. In this, we should be at one with developing countries. None of us can afford to ignore the dangers of continuing reliance on fossil fuels. That is not ideology or wishful thinking: it is a practical and realistic assessment of the future of the global economy.
The Prime Minister likes making apocalyptic statements about saving the world, but that sort of overblown rhetoric is not really what is needed, especially when it is combined with government delay and obstruction on exactly the sort of projects that will lead us to a sustainable economy. Over the past 15 years, Labour has been far too slow to legislate and implement policies on rolling out smart meters, developing carbon capture and storage, providing and producing the planning guidelines for nuclear power stations or supporting renewable technology and microgeneration investment. The Minister called attention to the great advances that have been made in the past few decades and he is quite right to identify the enormous support that there now is from scientific evidence and public opinion. I hope very much that that support will lead to a meaningful agreement very soon and will not, as has been the case in this country with the Government, result only in yet more talk and still no action.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for making the Statement. I echo the thoughts of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, but I would make the point even more strongly: this conference was an absolute failure. Let us be clear about that. We did not move forward; particularly psychologically, we moved back to before Bali and all the optimism and work that had been done before Copenhagen at the end of last year. That is a great challenge and a great problem.
Of all the words and phrases that could be found in the diplomatic lexicon, “accord” was chosen. It means “agreement”, but agreement about what? As the Minister said in the Statement, the accord was deposited in the Library of the House. I went there earlier, as I had not read the accord word for word, and found that it had just 12 paragraphs. It contains hardly any numbers—the figure of 2 degrees at the beginning, a wish for a $30 billion transfer of funds, with $100 billion by 2020, and one other figure, which I shall come to later. That is it. There are fewer promises in it than in the Tories’ pre-election manifesto, which we heard about yesterday. That is something to beat in terms of aspirations. We have a great failure.
Another thing that Copenhagen showed was a massive transfer of global power. What did we have? We had the deal led by China with South Africa, Brazil and India. Russia was not even there. More important, the European Union did not figure at all. The United States was brought in, but without the President being one to one with the Chinese Premier. That left the rest of the world and most of the nations out of the agreement. It is a major shift. I say that in great sadness. Before, we had Europe leading with a unified voice, with targets and with the desire to be legally tied to real outcomes, yet the European Union was not even part of bringing together the accord.
As the Minister said, there were some good points. One that has not been mentioned was the agreement for verification across the world, particularly by China, which should, we hope, eventually make an agreement deliverable by the United States Senate. There was also the agreement straightaway for a $30 billion transfer of funds, which will primarily relate to forests. The REDD-plus agreement moved forward, which I hope will be one of the major achievements to be delivered from the conference, because if we lose rainforests they are lost for ever.
We will have a debate next week, when I will broaden out some of those themes, but I should like to know from the Minister what the European Union is going to do now in relation to the reduction of 20 per cent versus 30 per cent. This agreement cannot fulfil the requirements for a 30 per cent reduction by 2020 at the European Union level. Where does Europe go from here, after this diplomatic disaster at Copenhagen? I am also interested in the Copenhagen green climate fund that it was decided should be set up. Perhaps the Minister could say a little about whether that is about to happen. Is it part of the United Nations? How does it fit in? How do we know whether this transfer will work properly? I would be interested to understand a little more about the technology transfer organisation.
One of the ironies of the accord lies in paragraph 12, which says, “After we’ve done all this by 2015, we’ll then reconsider whether we should strengthen the target to 1.5 degrees, as the island nation states demanded”. Of course, with the weak agreement that we have, that target has become impossible. In many ways, that is the hypocrisy of the accord.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for their responses. I say to them both that it is important to be optimistic and to look for the positives that came out of Copenhagen. We should map out a trajectory, setting out those parts of the discussions that led to the accord that lead us to see the progress that can be made over the next few months. It is important that we build on those foundations.
There are risks in simply writing off Copenhagen as a failure. It is important that we remain as optimistic as we can be and, over the next few months, build on what was agreed by 49 nations. Of course there cannot be complacency. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was right to point to two aspects of the accord that were not mentioned in the Statement: first, verification, which is vital to the integrity of what was agreed and what we hope will be agreed in the future; and, secondly, deforestation.
I think it important simply to reflect again that this endorses the limit of 2 degrees Celsius as the benchmark for global progress. I remind noble Lords that the countries that signed up to the accord—“agreed to the accord” is probably a more appropriate description—have agreed to make specific commitments to tackle emissions, which are to be lodged in the agreement by 31 January. One hopes very much that the commitments that those nations lodge will build on the offers that were made in the lead-up to Copenhagen. We should not ignore the progress that has been made in terms of the countries that have lodged actions that they will take in relation to climate change. We need to build on that. We remain committed to a legally binding agreement and we will work hard to ensure that that happens.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked what happens next and what actions the UK Government will take. Clearly, we are still thinking through some of the implications and it is right that we should do that. I welcome the opportunity that we will have in eight days’ time for a Thursday debate on climate change, which I am sure will be helpful. Of course we will redouble our efforts to encourage countries to associate themselves with the accord. We will work to get finance flowing to developed countries. We will work hard to contribute to the establishment of a high-level panel on sources of finance and we will do everything that we can to encourage countries to consider the benefit of a legally binding agreement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, said that she was glad that we were not engaging in blame. We have never sought to engage in a blame game. My right honourable friend has, in describing the process at Copenhagen, pointed out simply and accurately why certain countries could not sign up to a legally binding agreement. That is not a blame game and I do not think that it would be sensible for us to indulge in one. We have to take the good bits of what happened at Copenhagen and build on them in the future, engaging with those countries. We are not seeking to inhibit the growth of developing countries, many of whose citizens live in abject poverty. I agree with the noble Baroness about that. We wish to see a sustainable, low-carbon economy developing both in this country and in other countries. I do not accept her criticism of this Government in relation to the action that we have taken to encourage a low-carbon energy policy. We have taken action in relation to new nuclear, the development of clean coal through carbon capture and storage, the reform of the planning legislation, the commitment in the Climate Change Act to an 80 per cent GHG reduction by 2050 and the development of smart meters. All of this is hard evidence of a Government strongly committed to the benefits of a low-carbon economy.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, specifically raised the role of the EU. The EU was at the forefront in developing policies prior to Copenhagen. We should not ignore that. The EU has shown leadership capacity in that regard. It is not accurate to say that the EU was excluded from the agreement on the accord. Other countries were around the table when it was agreed. Of course there were side meetings. I think the noble Lord is referring to one such side meeting. It is fair to point out that there were any number of such meetings involving different countries. We should not underestimate the role of the EU in that regard. The noble Lord is right then to ask about where we are. Noble Lords will know that the EU signed up to a 20 per cent reduction by 2020, but with a commitment to moving to 30 per cent if an ambitious global deal was reached. The Government are committed to 30 per cent. We wish to see a move to 30 per cent. We will discuss this urgently with our European partners.
On the issue of holding climate change to 1.5 degrees, my understanding is that, on the current trajectory, even if all emissions were stopped now, 1.4 degrees of warming is inevitable. I do not think that, in any circumstances, 1.5 degrees could be practical, but the noble Lord is right to remind us of the importance of pursuing progress with great energy; building on the accord; encouraging more countries to agree to the accord; making their commitments known by 31 January; and doing everything that we can to secure legally binding agreements in the future.
On the question of the green climate fund and the technology mechanism, it was encouraging that decisions were made. We believe that, essentially, it was recognition of the importance of international financial and technological support for the development and diffusion of low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies. The details of how that will be taken forward have yet to be agreed but I am always happy to discuss this further with the noble Lord when we have more information.
My Lords, it is difficult to engage with the Minister, since his answers to previous questions have made clear that he is not living in the real world at all, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, to some extent pointed out. Nevertheless, does the Minister recall that last year I pointed out that his own department put the cost of the Climate Change Act to the British economy at anything up to £18 billion a year, year in, year out, and that there would be no conceivable benefit unless there was a global agreement of the same kind? Therefore, I asked him a year ago whether he would undertake, if there was no such agreement at Copenhagen, to repeal the Act, or at least to put it into suspense. He replied that the question did not arise because he was confident that there would be a wholly satisfactory agreement at Copenhagen. Since the Minister’s confidence, like everything else that he has said, has been proved to be wholly misplaced, will he now undertake—unlike the European Union, which has made this conditional—to put this wholly unconditional, hugely damaging and hugely costly burden on an economy which is not in the most robust condition anyway into suspense as a result of the total failure of Copenhagen to achieve what he was confident it would achieve? Clearly, no useful purpose can be served by carrying on with this at present.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, as ever, for allowing me to debate these issues with him. But I do not agree at all. Whatever the outcome of Copenhagen—and the accord represents significant steps forward and a foundation for the future—the world is on a trajectory towards a low-carbon economy. It is essential that this country is in a leadership role to take advantage of that.
The noble Lord mentions China, but China, as part of the process leading to Copenhagen, announced policies such as energy-intensity targets in the current five-year plans and 2020 targets for renewable and nuclear power. We estimate that those will reduce emissions by around 10 per cent against business-as-usual projections. They also show that China is embarked on a pathway towards a low-carbon economy. That is happening and it is inevitable. It would be foolish in the extreme suddenly to say, “We are going to stop. We will reverse our policies and move to a high-carbon economy”. It is very foolish to think that a high-carbon economy will, long term, be low-cost to this country. It will not.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Environment Agency. I observe first, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, that we are living absolutely in the real world. The real world is one in which climate change is happening and poses the biggest threat that any of us faces over the coming generation. The scientific evidence for that is overwhelming and irrefutable.
I thank the Minister for his Statement and pay tribute to the role that the UK has played in seeking international agreement, both at and prior to Copenhagen. However, the outcome of Copenhagen is obviously deeply disappointing. We have emerged with an imperfect, flawed and partial document that offers only a tiny part of a solution to a tiny number of relevant issues. However, the worst possible response to Copenhagen would be to throw up our hands in horror and say that nothing can now be achieved and we must all pack up our bags and go home. Does the Minister agree that it is essential that we redouble our efforts to secure, by the end of this calendar year at the very latest, a binding international legal agreement that will ensure that we reach the two-degree target that was agreed as part of the partial accord?
I am grateful to my noble friend and pay tribute to him and the Environment Agency for their work in this important area. I well understand that he is disappointed by the outcome of the discussions in Copenhagen. As I have intimated, the Government, too, are disappointed by the outcome. The noble Lord is also right to say that we should not throw up our hands in horror and say that we should reverse all our policies.
We should not ignore two facts. First, the accord contains some important gains; it was very important that we put these in the bag. Secondly, several significant offers were made by both developed and developing countries in the lead-up to Copenhagen. We must hope that they translate themselves into the commitments that are made by those countries that agreed to the accord at the end of this month. My understanding is that the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Stern, shows that if you combine the impact of those offers, particularly the highly ambitious end of them, you are within striking distance of what is required by 2020 in terms of meeting the 2-degree Celsius target. Of course, there can be no room for complacency. I agree with my noble friend that we should do everything we can to encourage a legally binding agreement. By the end of the year we will very much engage with the Mexicans, who will be responsible for overseeing COP 16 towards the end of 2010.
I repeated in the Statement the intention of the German Government to host a ministerial meeting. UN negotiators and negotiators from the relevant countries will also meet in Germany in the summer. We will do everything we can to reach the outcome the noble Lord has suggested.
The most disappointing aspect of Copenhagen was the failure to establish institutional mechanisms to quietly take forward discussions between nations which, for the most part, engaged in grandstanding and exchanged abuse. Many significant nations absented themselves from direct participation in the key decisions. Although Britain could lead by example in what we do about the carbon economy domestically, is it none the less futile for us to seek to work on our own in this area? Will the Government seek to give the European Union the clout which its collective economies ought to enable it to wield, and to do this significantly before the discussions which are to take place thanks to Chancellor Merkel? We have to begin now to get these institutional arrangements in place. We cannot simply wait for suggestions that may emanate from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which are bound to take time and to require widespread consensus of a kind which will probably be too weak to deal with the urgency of the situation.
My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the negotiating process in Copenhagen. He will understand that we found it a frustrating experience. Much of the discussion was about process rather than the substantive points that needed to be agreed. It is very important that lessons are learnt from that. One cannot underestimate the challenge of achieving consensus among more than 190 countries. However, it is clear that the process needs to be improved. We were encouraged by the remarks of the UN Secretary-General about his willingness to look at that. I agree with the noble Lord that this is not something the UK can achieve on its own. We have to work with our partners. Working with the EU is particularly important and has been shown to be beneficial.
However, on the whole question of institutions, it is worth saying to the noble Lord that for the first time the Copenhagen accord will see developing, as well as developed, countries subject to monitoring, reporting and verification. That is very important. Clearly, we have to work very hard to make sure we have the right mechanisms in place to ensure the integrity of those processes. I assure him that the Government will discuss those matters with our partners in Europe.
Is it not clear that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, is living in a world of his own? Is it not evident that he is incapable of making any constructive suggestions about this most important issue? Will my noble friend give further and better particulars of how the Government can best evangelise the virtues of taking effective action before the next international conference, and in particular how they will embark on promoting constructive action rather than rhetoric as far as the United States and China are concerned?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, is well able to make his views on these issues known. Since I have been in this post, he has shown every sign of being able to do so with vigour. I do not agree with him but I enjoy our discussions.
We will vigorously promote the need for an internationally binding agreement, as my noble friend has suggested. We are considering what specific actions we need to take. I am sure that our debate next week will be very helpful in informing the Government on those matters. My noble friend mentioned the USA and China. Comment has rightly been made about the importance of the role of both those Governments in international negotiations. In the lead-up to Copenhagen, China announced policies which we found encouraging. It is also worth pointing out to my noble friend that the USA recently announced, through its President, that it was prepared to table an emissions commitment of 17 per cent below 2005 levels. The President has made it clear that that is the start of that process. Although, historically, there has been great disappointment about the position taken by the US, it seems to me at least that it has come a long way in a very short time. We are not going to make progress internationally by hectoring and lecturing. We have to work very hard to persuade and to act through consensus. We need to acknowledge progress when it has been made.
My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me for saying that he has certainly not erred on the side of not accentuating sufficiently positive aspects. However, that is a mistake because it underestimates the distance we still have to travel and that is not sensible, frankly, because that distance seems to me very long. Could the Minister clarify the position as regards verification and monitoring? Frankly, the passage in the accord that deals with that is totally inadequate and will prove to be a flimsy and fragile thing which will gradually fall to pieces. I hope he can confirm that we need to get on to the table a much more robust and international system of verification and monitoring, because if we do not there will be no agreement on a legally binding treaty, and if there is an agreement it will not pass the US Congress. Therefore, we have to apply ourselves to that. I hope that the European Union will put something on the table fairly soon.
I hope that the Minister will allow me to express a word of caution about disappearing down the long dark tunnel of institutional change at the United Nations. It can be very long indeed and we do not have enough time to disappear down it. Why do we not make use of the G20 meetings to be held this year, which will bring together people who emit something like 80 to 85 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions? Can we not use that mechanism, which exists and is stated to be the primary institution for the co-ordination of international economic issues, as the main way to start building up some of the building blocks that will be needed by the end of the year?
My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great authority in cautioning me about being overoptimistic about reform of UN institutions. I very much take that point. None the less, the experience at Copenhagen has clearly concentrated minds. We should not dissuade the UN Secretary-General from at least looking at the issues and seeking to make changes. We must hope that processes will be put in place at Mexico that will allow decisions to be made in a more realistic environment. The G20 countries will be important in that regard and I do not seek to underestimate the role that those groupings can play. The noble Lord is absolutely right about monitoring, reporting and verification. It is very important that we have institutions of integrity that are transparent and can command confidence—I have no doubt about that. However, it is important to acknowledge that in the Copenhagen accord we are for the first time seeing developed as well as developing countries subject to monitoring, reporting and verification.
I have not sought to be overoptimistic. The Statement that I repeated made clear our disappointment. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, that if we are overpessimistic about what has been achieved, there is a risk that people will think that we simply cannot succeed. We must take what came out of the accord, build on that and redouble our efforts over the next few months.
My Lords, it is ironic that we are today being warned by the Minister of all the dangers of global warming when the capital is being told to brace itself for one of the heaviest falls of snow that we are ever likely to face. Surely it is equally ironic that the Met Office—in one of those long-range forecasts that one would have thought they would have abandoned by now, so unsuccessful have they been—only a few months ago told us to expect a mild winter. The inputs of the Met Office are one of the pillars on which the whole IPCC rests. No doubt the Government hope that their record with 100-year forecasts will be better than their record with 100-day forecasts—although for the life of me I see no reason to expect that.
I will ask two questions about the two funds that the Statement refers to. First, will any conditions be attached to the disbursement of the funds? If not, how will we know whether they have any effect on reducing carbon emissions anywhere? If conditions are to be attached, what will they be? Secondly, who will take the decisions regarding the distribution of those funds to developing countries?
My Lords, on the question of the Met Office, the noble Lord raised an issue of science. The Government believe that there is overwhelming scientific evidence for climate change and that we have to base our policies and decisions on that basis. The fact that we face a lot of snow at the moment does not detract from the overwhelming scientific evidence.
I cannot answer the questions about funding, because the details will need to be worked through. However, I take the noble Lord’s point that we must ensure that the funding is used in an acceptable way. That will be the subject of further discussion in the weeks ahead.
Child Poverty Bill
Second Reading (Continued)
My Lords, in spite of our discussions on climate change and terrorism, the debate that now resumes on the Child Poverty Bill is surely a matter of equal moment to our national life. Any society will be judged on the way that it treats its most poor and vulnerable, and political consensus on the need to tackle child poverty is vital to our national well-being.
I declare an interest as chair of the Children’s Society. In July 2001, the General Synod of the Church of England reaffirmed its commitment to the practice of justice through ensuring that, within society, the needs of each person and family, especially the needs of children, are met. I anticipate that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford will have more to say about the church’s responsibilities for children in his maiden speech in a few moments.
One of the most striking aspects of contemporary British society has been the growing gap, which has been referred to already, between the rich and poor. Most recently, the Children’s Society’s Good Childhood Inquiry concluded that the well-being of all our children is directly proportionate to the levels of inequality embedded in our society. We need to tackle not only child poverty, but also the inequality that results from our excessively individualistic style of life. A year ago, I was privileged to be part of that inquiry panel, whose report was debated in this House last February. The inquiry received many submissions from individuals, groups and organisations; but also, more importantly, heard from many children themselves about their concerns and hopes for their childhoods. The report had a good deal to say about child poverty and its causes, and for this reason I unapologetically rehearse one or two of its findings today, in the hope that, as the Bill progresses through your Lordships’ House, some of the voices heard and issues raised in the inquiry may find expression in the legislation that we pass.
One of the most striking things about the evidence received from children was how frequently they mentioned their basic needs. More than 5,000 children responded to the inquiry about their lives. The three topics that they talked most about were friends, family and what was termed their material needs. They spoke mostly about the importance of having a home, a bed, clothes, warmth, food and water. Interestingly, far more children talked about those things than mentioned what we might call material wants such as money and possessions. The central theme of the Good Childhood Inquiry panel’s final report is the relationship between poverty and inequality. Noble Lords will be aware that, after the United States, Britain is the most unequal of the rich countries, and we all now understand how tragically this affects our children. The Good Childhood Inquiry panel argued that even more must be redistributed from the rich to the poor if we are to end child poverty once and for all. The evidence here is very clear: this is an issue that children themselves are concerned about.
We know that the relationship between poverty and inequality has a profound effect on children's well-being. However, this is not just about material disadvantage, but also about the ways in which it interacts with other forms of disadvantage to impact on children's life experiences and opportunities. Put starkly, poverty shortens lives. A girl in Manchester can expect to live six years fewer than a girl in Kensington, Chelsea or Westminster. Children in the inner-city schools of Leicester, where some 70 per cent may be on free school meals and where, in one school, 46 languages are spoken, can expect a life six years shorter than that of their near neighbours in the suburbs of the city. Evidence suggests that the experience of poverty in early years can also have a long-term impact on children's cognitive development and educational attainment. A child's cognitive development at 22 months is a strong predictor of future attainment, but the effect of poverty outweighs ability so greatly that, by the age of six, low-achieving children from more advantaged homes will outperform high-achieving children from less advantaged homes. By the end of compulsory education, the divergence is stark. Only 33 per cent of those eligible for free school meals achieve five good GCSEs, compared to 61 per cent of their peers.
The Children's Society works directly with some of the children most likely to experience poverty in our society, including disabled children, children from Traveller, Gypsy and Roma families, and children living in families seeking asylum. Sadly, many of these children do not live in the family units counted as qualifying households in the Bill and its associated guidance. If the aim of the Bill to eliminate child poverty by 2020 is to stand any chance of success, we must include those groups that are the most disadvantaged. I will illustrate their needs by focusing on children living in families seeking asylum. Families claiming asylum are given benefits at 70 per cent of income support levels. They are not allowed to work. When a family is refused asylum, the Government have the power to stop all money and accommodation for the family when they believe that that family is not taking reasonable steps to leave the United Kingdom. Even when recognised as refugees, children can spend years in temporary accommodation or in unaffordable and insecure private rented accommodation—usually the poorest quality available. When granted asylum, families have 28 days to leave their accommodation and find somewhere else to live. This is an intensely vulnerable time for families, which can lead to destitution.
A recent survey carried out by the Children’s Society, in association with its West Midlands Destitution project, uncovered stories of children growing up in households without any food, heating or toys, mothers who felt forced to prostitute themselves to survive, and young people in care—cut off from any help at 18 —becoming homeless.
My concern is that some of these children and families who are at the greatest risk of living in poverty are not captured by existing data based on qualifying households. Not all children live in qualifying households, and those who do not are often the poorest. Existing surveys of household income do not include data on some of these groups. Surely these children are poor by any measure of poverty, and yet they are excluded from the targets of the Bill. That cannot be right, and I urge the Government to set out how they intend to tackle child poverty for all children and to consider targeted measures for these particular groups, over and above the scope of the general targets.
The Children’s Society is not just a campaigning organisation, but strives to tackle the issues at a local level through its practice base. The organisation currently operates 25 children's centres across England in a range of settings, and offers employment and training advice to parents as part of the core offer. The staff see at first hand, over and over again, the difference that this can make to children and families. Their approach is to ensure that the most disadvantaged and excluded children and families receive these services, because financial insecurity can be a real block to parents accessing services.
Therefore, I welcome the provisions in the Bill that place duties on local authorities to measure child poverty in their area and develop a strategy to combat it. It is vital that local authorities work with local partners, including the voluntary sector, to deliver effective local services that will help to break the cycle of poverty and reduce inequality.
Of course we welcome the commitment of the Government to deliver this Bill, but we urge them to go further. It is vital that children’s voices are heard in this debate about their poverty. The Government must go further to address the links between poverty and inequality in our society and need to widen the scope of those they survey as living in poverty to include some of the poorest in our society. I hope that the Government will find innovative ways to work locally in partnership with strong public, private and voluntary-sector organisations to deliver the goals of this Bill.
I look forward to taking part in further debates as the Bill makes progress through your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, poverty, like wealth, is too often inherited, unmerited and unearned—especially for children. We all know which children are poor and in what families they live—large families with two parents churning between no or low-paid work. Others have a lone parent, a disabled parent, a BME parent or an unemployed parent—usually a mixture of them all.
Therefore, this Bill is about income and outcomes for children. It seeks to turn the Government’s aspiration, which I am sure is shared by the House, of halving, then eradicating child poverty, into targets—binding targets. Normally in draft legislation, we do not insert a Clause 1 as a statement of intent. Here we have an entire Bill devoted to it. It cannot be done. It has to be done. It is impossible, but it is essential.
Why? In the other place, much of the debate, as my noble friend mentioned in his opening speech, centred around whether tackling poverty of income should be the objective of the Bill, or whether, given that poor children were by definition within poor families, there were drivers behind that poverty of family income—education, worklessness, debt, addiction, family relationships and poor mental health—which should be tackled first. That argument was run by the noble Lord, Lord Freud.
The Government argued, rightly in my view, that their work in other fields—Sure Start, schools, the New Deal for Lone Parents—have progressed in parallel with their pledge on child poverty, and that therefore it was right that this Bill should remain focused if we are to transform the life chances of every child. Without an assault on income poverty, the successful outcomes that we all want to see—happy, healthy and well-educated children—are infinitely harder, if not impossible, to achieve. We need this Bill, not a different Bill.
However, that does not make the task that this Bill sets for itself any easier. Why is it so difficult—perhaps even impossible—while at the same time essential? There are four tests of poverty in this Bill, and they are mostly problematic, as I want to suggest. The first relates to relative poverty—those at below 60 per cent of national median income. It is of course a statement about inequality at least as much as poverty, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester absolutely rightly said. Fewer children in Greece, I suspect, may be—or are, indeed—below the 60 per cent line. But does that mean that there are fewer children in poverty? No, because I suspect that Greek incomes are lower and, therefore, children above the poverty line in Greece may in real terms be worse off than children in England below the poverty line. In other words, international comparisons—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freud—without carefully worked-out equivalences of livings standards between countries are, frankly, a waste of space. Indeed, it is arguable that if you take the total benefit package into account, UK children are in the top three or so of OECD countries.
There is a second problem. Conventionally, benefits for people of working age are increased by inflation. Those in work, however, can normally—I do not mean now—expect to see wages rise each year by 2 per cent above inflation. Those below 60 per cent median, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, rightly said, keep falling behind. To catch up, benefits not only have to be linked to earnings, rather than the RPI, to maintain the status quo—and that is expensive enough—but need actually to increase faster than earnings, in order to narrow the relativity gap. Only then will you decrease inequalities. Even if that were acceptable and affordable, if you have several children and only one unskilled earner, what then happens to work incentives? The poverty trap becomes an unemployment trap, unless you revisit the work stop of the 1970s.
Not surprisingly, but unfortunately, therefore, we mostly see a reduction in children in relative poverty where there is recession, where earnings fall and the median bar drops. Thereby, we reduce relative poverty because the country is getting poorer and inequalities close. I am not absolutely sure about this, but that may account for the question of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, as to why attempts to achieve the child poverty targets have done relatively badly since 2004. I suspect that that is due to real wages rising rapidly between 2004 and 2008 and, therefore, the bar has risen faster than children on benefits could keep pace with. That shows the problematic nature of the measure.
This Government admirably have sought to square this circle and make work pay through the minimum wage and tax credits. However, again, if they seek to reduce in-work poverty, as they must, the median bar is raised ever higher and it becomes harder for relatively poor children on benefits to hurdle.
In a sense, the Government have set themselves up to fail. Despite my profound misgivings about the deliverability of the relative poverty target, I do not for a moment believe that it should be discarded. My noble friend reminded us that some 500,000 children have come out of relative poverty, and he hopes that a further 500,000 children shortly will join them. Many lone parents with children under 14, for example, already receive benefits above the 60 per cent median line. But however difficult and demanding it is—and it will be—we have to go further, otherwise children in the bottom quintile will fall further and further behind. As society becomes more unequal, children see themselves as onlookers—the excluded—while other children’s well-being rises. I will support anything that increases equality and reduces inequality, as this test does. Therefore, as a test of poverty, the relative poverty measure is flawed, but in terms of social decency, so that children are not left behind, I judge it to be essential.
What none of those who understandably may press for amendments in Committee in order to go further and faster—5 not 10 per cent of children below the line; AHC rather than BHC—should forget, which I am sure they do not, is that the targets in this Bill are frankly already truly heroic and, if we can achieve them, transformative.
The second test—income combined with material deprivation—is also in my view deeply problematic. It combines in one test both income and expenditure, thus brigading what we used to call primary poverty, which is real enough, with in some cases additional secondary poverty—that of expenditure choice. Research shows that of two families with identical income, one may suffer material deprivation, the other not, according to whether those in one family smoke but those in the other do not, or whether they belong to a credit union or, alternatively, have loans at very high APR figures, which plunges them into debt.
Expenditure also quite properly reflects people’s choices. To put it flippantly for a moment, if I may, a member of my family is below the poverty line on material deprivation indicators while being a higher-rate taxpayer. I realise that the index is weighted both for preference and for widely available goods, and of course it is combined with low income. I also recognise that the material deprivation indicator importantly allows us to pick up people whose income seems nominally high because of their housing or disability benefits but whose expenditure is equally high, or higher, as well. Bedroom overcrowding—a problem that has grown with reformulated families, each partner bringing children into the relationship, and to some degree with immigration—or keeping the house warm, which is important where there is a disabled parent or child, are key examples. However, I have always thought it a somewhat odd list of indicators, originally modelled on the Irish bundle of goods. Household contents insurance, for example, is often a generational choice, and safe play facilities or open space close by are less about income than the built environment, but those are alongside the big ticket items, such as overcrowding, and very modest ones, such as affording the 35p once a fortnight for a baked beans and sausage tea for a friend. I remain somewhat hesitant about this list.
Incidentally, talking about housing—and despite the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas—I think that the Government are absolutely right to go for BHC rather than after housing costs. I absolutely understand the argument that housing costs vary dramatically, but equally it can also be argued that they may reflect a choice of higher quality over other goods. However, an argument that I think has so far not been made is that high housing costs usually run alongside cheap transport. Cheaper housing, outside London, usually comes with higher transport costs, estimated to be on average £20 to £30 a week more—the result of sparsity and poor public transport. AHC weights for London at the expense of the rest of the country. Before housing costs, I believe, more fairly assess country incomes as a whole. If you want AHC, you have to run with it by including transport costs, but in all fairness I do not think that we have the detailed statistics to do so.
Similarly, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, raised the issue of DLA and disability costs. However, DLA does not pay for costs; it is assessed on care needs. Someone living at home with severe depression, for example, may be on the middle rate, receiving the DLA care and mobility elements, but have few extra financial costs in the way of diet, heating or appliances. There may be a case for raising DLA, and I would support the noble Baroness on that, but that is not part of this Bill.
The third test, absolute income, is also not trouble-free. It sets a benchmark, an underpinning to relative poverty figures, which I support. We have been using the 1999 figures, and they show that half the cohort of children who were below the poverty line in 1998-99 were by 2009 lifted above that line. We are talking about 1.7 million children, which is a huge achievement. As this benchmark is independent of what is happening to earnings, it is about real standards of living rather than relative ones.
The difficulty is that, even with RPI built in, every decade or so you have to rebase your figures, otherwise the benchmark gets too far behind generally accepted standards of living, and you therefore build in a jagged edge every time you rebase and do not end up with the consistent statistics that you need to guide policy. However, consultation with the lobby groups showed that they wanted to retain this and I think that they were right.
Persistent poverty, the last of the four tests, is in my view the most important of all. It is the poverty that scars and affects about 10 per cent of our children. A temporary drop into poverty—while, for example, for six months dad draws contributory JSA—will for most families be fairly quickly overcome when they join the world of work and rebuild their lives. If however you are persistently poor, everything is more expensive—each square foot of your living space, the cost of your fuel, your food, your loans, and certainly your ambitions and aspirations. Persistent poverty defeats the parent and denies the child most of the things that make up the good life. It is the one that really matters.
Therefore, I think this is a brave Bill and it is one for which I applaud my noble friend. I edited Opportunity for All on behalf of the Government from its inception to 2005 or so, and 20 or so of our 40 poverty indicators expressed child poverty targets. Those reports sought to measure child outcomes across the field of government activity. This Bill, I believe, completes the jigsaw, turning an aspiration to end child poverty into a commitment, enshrined in law, by which any and every Government rightly should be judged. I think it will be impossibly hard to deliver but we must try. We owe all our children nothing less, for every child matters.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill as a significant step forward in addressing one of the greatest scandals of our time—the prevalence of child poverty in our country. The Government face a formidable challenge in meeting the complex and often long-standing needs of the most vulnerable children and families. Unfortunately, recent research has found that Governments are failing to make the best use of public resources to improve children’s lives. As a consequence, the UK spends far more money than its European neighbours remedying preventable social problems. We know that the impact of deprivation can scar lives over generations and result in high levels of child neglect. On the other hand, we know that well targeted early intervention is cost-effective and helps to release families from the trap of cyclical deprivation and reduce the likelihood of family breakdown.
So what will legislation achieve? Well, it will achieve nothing on its own. Its success will depend on the quality of the implementation and the detail of the strategies. Therefore, it is welcome that the powers and duties are given to national, devolved and local government and many other partners, and that the Bill also sets up an expert advisory group.
The Bill contains four targets, about which we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. However, I am concerned that organisations will concentrate too much on children just below the border-line, in order to raise them just above it, instead of focusing help on those in the deepest poverty, in the same way that schools focus on the border-line C/D grades in GCSEs, raising those that are anticipated to get a D so that they just get a C for the sake of the league tables. Whatever targets we use, we must avoid that.
Then there is the matter of what we mean by eradication, on which I heartily agree with my noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester. Even if we reached 5 per cent, that would still leave 600,000 children in poverty—hardly eradication.
There is another area where the Bill is deficient. Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that a child is,
“every human being below the age of 18 years”.
Yet Clause 25 defines a child for the purposes of the Bill as,
“a person under the age of 16”,
or qualifying for child benefit. Why the difference? The danger is that the NEETs and young care-leavers may be excluded from measures to alleviate poverty, and that would be a disaster because many of them suffer extreme poverty at present.
The Government have already had a hard mountain to climb. According to the Library Research Paper 09/62, the number of children living in households on less than 60 per cent of median income in 1979 was 13 per cent and this had risen to 27 per cent by the time Labour took over. This is the horrifying record of the last Conservative Government and we should never forget it, even though it was conveniently forgotten by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, in his attack on the Government earlier this afternoon. Since 1997, things have improved as the figure is now 23 per cent so something has been achieved by this Government, even though they have not hit their targets.
In 1999, Tony Blair pledged to eradicate child poverty within 20 years. We are halfway there in time but not in achievement, so we need to accelerate our actions. What are the Government's priorities? In April 2009, an Oxfam report on poverty noted that:
“Hundreds of billions of pounds have been made available to banks in an effort to avert financial meltdown—throwing into sharp relief, for example, the £4.2 billion needed to meet the interim child-poverty target”.
The figure of £4.2 billion comes from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. So have the Government committed this amount? No. The 2009 Budget committed only £140 million extra and yet child poverty costs the Exchequer £25 billion every year, so failing to invest adequately in eradicating child poverty is economically short-sighted and fiscally foolish.
I have two main concerns about the Bill. The first is about the independence and powers of the Child Poverty Commission and the second is about the voice of the child. How can we be assured that the Government will take any notice of the commission? Will it have enough resources to be able to commission research and call for evidence? Will it have a duty to consult children? Will it be truly independent? Based on my recent experience of looking at the independence of Ofqual in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill and the subsequent behaviour of the Secretary of State for Education, I think the answer is not very independent. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 says that the chair and everyone else, apart from the appointees from the devolved Administrations, are to be appointed by the Secretary of State. How independent is that? I will be seeking to oblige the Secretary of State to consult Parliament, in the guise of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, before appointing the chair of the commission. I will also be seeking, as conceded by the Government in the case of Ofqual, to have the members of the commission appoint the deputy chair themselves rather than the Secretary of State doing it.
I welcome the fact that the voice of the child is mentioned in the Bill but it is not enough. Apart from the fact that there is no mention of consulting children in the clauses on the commission, the Secretary of State in Clause 9(4)(c) on consultation with children, is to consult,
“such children, or organisations working with or representing children, as the Secretary of State thinks fit”.
I will seek to change that “or” to “and”, and I was delighted to hear from the Minister in his opening remarks that he may support that.
Other changes are needed to make the Bill fit for purpose. One of my major concerns is Clause 15, which obliges the Government and the commission to have regard to economic and fiscal circumstances. Presumably this means that in adverse economic circumstances the Government could be exempt from the legal commitment to meet the target. I believe this is unnecessary and could weaken the legislation. I mentioned earlier the high cost to the state of child poverty. What we need here is long-term thinking. The Action for Children's Backing the Future report, produced with the New Economics Foundation, reveals that the cost to the UK economy of addressing current levels of social problems, such as crime, mental illness, family breakdown, drug abuse and obesity, all of which are linked to child poverty, will amount to almost £4 trillion over the next 20 years. They found that, for every £1 invested annually in their own targeted early interventions, society benefits by between £7.60 and £9.20. The report shows that a £191 billion 10-year investment programme of targeted interventions for our most vulnerable children, alongside a £428 billion 20-year programme of investment in universal childcare and parental leave, would deliver net savings of £486 billion over the next 20 years.
This excellent return on investment is approximately five times the current annual budget for the whole of the NHS, so is a very good deal. Why are the Government not proposing a financial package such as this alongside the current legislation? We need cross-party commitment to succeed in the war on poverty. There are to be annual progress reports on the success of the Bill, so let us not make them just an opportunity for party political carping and knocking the Government. We need consensus if we are to succeed. I for one will welcome success where it is shown.
One of the Bill's main principles is getting parents into work. This is fine as long as it allows parents of very young children, who wish to stay at home to look after them, to do so. We need longer and better paid parental leave, as we on these Benches have for so long advocated. We need to have in place all the measures that enable parents to work and care for their children; for example, flexible working hours, part-time workers to be properly paid and to have the same rights as full-time workers, and high quality accessible and affordable childcare. We also need a fair deal for part-time students who should have the same access to grants and loans as full-time students.
We also need a fairer tax system. One of the best ways to remove low-paid families from poverty is the Liberal Democrat tax plan to raise the threshold for paying income tax to £10,000 thereby taking 4 million low-paid people out of tax altogether and saving the average working adult £700 per year.
Does every child matter? The Secretary of State should measure the impact of all these policies on all children and make explicit reference, as has been said, to the most at-risk groups when setting out the impact of measures under the building blocks. Asylum seekers are one such group as their benefits are lower than those of citizens. The Government should allow the adults to work while they are waiting for their applications to be decided. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester mentioned the problem of children in communal accommodation, as the criteria based on households do not apply to them. They may be Gypsy and Traveller children and children in care in children's homes as well as asylum seekers in detention centres.
Fostered children are another vulnerable group: 75 per cent of foster carers earn less than the minimum wage from fostering and most do not have time to work full-time outside the home as they look after the children. Some BME groups, such as Pakistani and Bangladeshi families, also feature highly on the poverty statistics and my noble friend Lady Thomas mentioned disabled children.
We also need to look at debt. In the past 12 months, there has been an increase of 170,000 in the number of children in families living on benefits. Many of them get into debt and pay outrageously crippling interest rates. We need action by the financial services industry to avoid low-income families getting into high-interest debt.
This is an important Bill for children and I look forward to this House making it even better.
My Lords, I defer to none in my support for the Government’s objective to reduce the number of children living in poverty. However, I have honest doubts about this Bill. I wish, for example, that it was dedicated to the welfare of children rather than to household income.
This afternoon I want to concentrate on one serious defect which I see. I do not believe that the Bill will achieve its objective because it largely ignores the role of parents. The choices which parents make are an inevitable ingredient in child well-being and so, evidently, in child poverty. The decision to bring a child into the world is made by parents, whether intentionally or carelessly. Parents also choose whether to make a long-term commitment to the well-being of their child; they decide whether the two parents will form a household together and make a home for their child; and if they do, they decide who will look after the children, who will earn the money and how the household income should be spent.
Parental behaviour is not set in stone. There is much more that we could do, for example, to encourage adults to think carefully before conceiving a child. There is more that we could do to encourage both parents to make a long-term commitment to their child's well-being—whether in the form of marriage or not. Many disadvantaged parents need more help to acquire the relationship skills that they will need to make a happy home together a realistic aspiration for their child and for them.
Having so very little reference to parents in the Bill sends the wrong message about the importance of parents in ameliorating child poverty or in child well-being. I do not have the time this afternoon to discuss in detail the problems or the things that should be done to encourage, help and empower disadvantaged parents, but they will no doubt come up in Committee.
I hope that I will not tread on the toes of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, as chairman of the Children's Society, but I, too, will cite the Good Childhood inquiry. I quote from the report written for the Children's Society by the noble Lord, Lord Layard. That excellent report is based on research and an extensive inquiry into the needs of children. Personally, I believe that it should be compulsory reading for anyone seriously interested in reducing child poverty. The quotation that I have chosen perhaps exposes a slightly different aspect of the report than that which the right reverend Prelate emphasised. On page 134, the noble Lord, Lord Layard, states:
“So poverty is related to poor outcomes for children. But does this mean that poverty is a direct cause of these poor outcomes? Only partly. In all studies of individuals the effect of family income is greatly reduced, and even sometimes disappears when other causes of child wellbeing are taken into account”.
So although poverty is statistically associated with poor outcomes for children, that does not mean that poverty is necessarily itself the cause of those poor outcomes.
The Bill, instead of addressing the underlying causes of child poverty, tries to address only the symptoms. It focuses on household income and the role that the state can play in supporting household income; it ignores the role of parents. There is only one brief mention of parents, in Clause 8(5), and it is limited to the context of the first UK strategy and relates only to more access to employment and financial support for parents. Worse still, in Clause 9(4), as was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the Bill refers to a list of persons and organisations whom the Secretary of State must consult before publishing a report. Among those, it mentions children and organisations representing children—not a mention of parents. Why not? Child poverty is profoundly influenced by the behaviour and lifestyle choices of parents. As I said, their choices affect both the income of the household and the way in which it is spent, or not, on the children.
There are three main players in the prevention of child poverty: fathers, mothers and the state. It is like a three-legged stool, and it works only if all three are playing their part. Up to now, this Government have shown a lack of faith in parents. For the past 10 years or so, it has been the Government’s official and often stated policy that it is not the job of the Government to interfere in the way that parents choose to live their lives. Suddenly, two weeks ago, the Secretary of State for Education made a statement to the effect that he believes in marriage and the importance of parental commitment, and that a Green Paper on relationships and the family is to be published in February. I welcome that good news, but I am concerned that the Bill was obviously drafted before the Government had this welcome change of heart. We now need to know what the Government's future policy on parenting support and family structure will be. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that we shall not be asked to debate this Bill in Committee without seeing the Green Paper, or at least a draft of it?
Finally, I should like briefly to mention one or two issues which we shall have to address in Committee if the Bill is to have a chance of meeting the targets that it sets itself. First, household income is not necessarily a good measure. Child well-being is a better one. Secondly, poor, dysfunctional and hard-to-reach families have a range of problems which will have to be addressed more effectively by the Government and local authorities, supported by extended families and communities where appropriate, if the Bill’s targets are to be met. For example, as many noble Lords have mentioned, they may suffer from poor health, mental health problems, loneliness, drug or alcohol abuse, a member of the family in prison, domestic violence, relationship problems and parental separation, debt, poor or unsuitable housing—the list goes on.
If we are to win the battle against child poverty, public attitudes to the responsibilities of becoming a parent will have to change. Children unwanted or neglected by one or both of their parents are more likely to be poor and disadvantaged. Parental neglect and rejection is very damaging to a child's social and emotional development. The role and responsibilities of fathers in our contemporary society need to be clearly defined, based on research and widely publicised by the Government. The role of paternal grandmothers could be very important in the support and well-being of children. Much child poverty is caused by poor relationships within the family. There is an urgent need for more and better relationship education.
Those and other issues affecting child poverty we shall have to discuss in Committee. Many of those issues will not be resolved by making laws alone. There is a need for painstaking, sustained persuasion—what is now often referred to as the nudge—linked to better research-based information and parenting education. Only if those problems are addressed shall we have a chance, in my view, of meeting the targets set by the Bill. Both the Government and the Opposition are well aware of those problems, yet the Bill appears to ignore them. In its present form, it should not be allowed on to the statute book.
My Lords, like many of you before me, I begin by expressing my gratitude and thanks for the welcome extended to me in the very brief time that I have been in your Lordships' House. A good deal of advice has been offered to me, much of it pointing in the same direction, but not so, perhaps, with regard to the weighty matter of when to make a maiden speech. Some say, “Do it immediately”; others say, “Wait a few months until you are more used to the place”, with a whole range in between. Maybe that reflects something of the diversity of views that we hold on so many other rather more important matters. Nevertheless, I am delighted to be able to make a contribution on this Bill. I have long been of the view that within the United Kingdom, the two most urgent and pressing matters are the inequality and widening gap between rich and poor, on the one hand, and the breakdown of family life and marriage, on the other. Hot on the heels of those two—perhaps that is the right phrase—as we have been observing, has been climate change, and many other issues, but none, I think, is more important. Both those issues come together in the Bill.
We meet on the first sitting day after the Christmas Recess, and have therefore been focusing our thoughts on the birth of Christ, knowing, as we do, that there was no room in the inn. There is a tendency among far too many people to want to romanticise the stable and to suggest that somewhere that was clearly cold, draughty and immensely unhygienic was nevertheless somehow suitable—though not, we would imagine, for our own children or grandchildren to be born, let alone for the son of God. Within a very brief time, He was a refugee, having to escape for His life. We do not know quite what impact these experiences had later on His thinking and teaching, but we know that He taught that every child matters and that unless we,
“turn and become like children”,
we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Church of England has nearly 5,000 church schools and 1 million or more pupils within them. We have 500,000 children and young people involved in other groups, in worship and in activities during the week, and thereby we demonstrate our deep commitment to valuing children, to working with them and for them and to serving them as best we can. Naturally, like others, I welcome the Bill, but I also urge that we keep before us the obvious fact that, vital though it is to set the targets—and we may well find ourselves modifying quite how they are expressed—the crucial part is to meet those targets, as well as the action that follows.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester spoke about the outstanding work of the Children’s Society and other noble Lords referred to the Good Childhood Inquiry. This major work has emphasised that what children say they want above everything else are stable, secure, loving relationships within their own homes. The absence of this love and these relationships are the greatest of all poverties. This is in no way to minimise the horror of the abject financial poverty that is the focus of the Bill, or, as has already been expressed, the moral obligation upon us to do our utmost to eradicate it, but it is to put the financial poverty into the right perspective.
We have already been reminded of the 2007 UNICEF report that placed us at the bottom of the league table of the 21 richest nations. That was a league table of well-being, which is not just about money. Poverty affects many aspects of a child’s life and is contributed to by a wide diversity of factors. Among those is poverty of aspiration, which contributes to the fact that the proportion of children from poorer homes in higher education has not changed over recent years, despite the extra places in colleges and universities and the encouragement of children from poorer households to look to that opportunity and take it.
In a similar vein, there is a real quandary for a lone parent without work if she or he is offered work. The quandary is between the extra money that they are likely to bring into their household and the pressure that that places on their time and the lessened opportunity they have to give to their child or children the emotional support they need. We need to do more to provide a financial taper that allows this line between unemployment and full employment to be crossed more easily. We also need a taper in other areas, where changing a category of classification can result in a step change in circumstances. A financial taper would, for example, make it easier for a single parent to be able to afford childcare, which is so necessary.
If poverty is not just about money, we need to be more joined up in our thinking and action in addressing all the underlying causes, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said. As the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions put it,
“family breakdown is a route into poverty for many children”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/7/09; col. 616.]
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, also intimated that earlier. In a similar vein, the Institute for Public Policy Research report in 2006 observed:
“Much recent US research reports a consistent overarching finding that children who grow up in an ‘intact, two-parent family’ with both biological parents do better on a wide range of outcomes than children who grow up in a single-parent family. While this research may be instinctively difficult for those on the Left to accept, the British evidence seems to support it”.
Surely it must follow that in being serious about addressing child poverty, we must also address the need to support parents and recognise that support needs to be given early. There is ample evidence, for example, that relationship education programmes make a difference. The churches do a great deal in terms of marriage preparation and support, relationship development, parenting courses and so on. We know what significant contributions they can make in aiding all types of families, whether with married, co-habiting or single parents. Whatever the nature of the family unit, early support can make a real difference.
The director of One Plus One, Penny Mansfield, wrote recently:
“If we are concerned about the wellbeing of children, we must look first at how their parents are getting on”.
“Our research shows that relationships can be strengthened and breakdown in some cases prevented. Good early interventions have been shown to decrease costs incurred later by schools, social services, health services, youth justice and the police, but to truly reap the rewards they must be early. But it takes bold political will to spend now to save money later”.
This research, like so much other, comes from the voluntary sector and underlines the need for voluntary agencies to be encouraged in their work with properly funded statutory agencies, both making their unique contributions as equal but different partners in the joint enterprise. As the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions observed when introducing the Bill:
“We know that no law alone can end child poverty”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/7/09; col. 603.]
It has to be accompanied by the will and the action from all quarters.
The diocese that I have the privilege to serve covers not only Herefordshire but south Shropshire, about 20 parishes in Wales and a little bit of Worcestershire. Half of its small total population of 330,000 lives in communities of less than 500. Not surprisingly, we are therefore the most rural English diocese, so noble Lords will not be surprised if at this point I say that we must not forget rural poverty and rural households in greatest financial need. Rural poverty may largely be invisible as a statistic, which is part of the problem, but if you are the child, it is not invisible but extremely real.
To give an example from my diocese, one of our village schools has only 87 children, 24 per cent of whom have free school meals. In a village community, that is a massive figure. The head teacher there, like head teachers of so many schools, says that the number of children who are entitled to free school meals is considerably higher, but parents are reluctant to request them, partly because of the stigma that they still see attached to them—however much they are meant to be confidential, in such a small community, they are not—and partly because of rural pride. Therefore, the statistics do not always reveal the whole truth. South Shropshire has been the poorest rural district in our country. With a small population, this issue is desperately difficult to address. Households are scattered and communities are tiny. Thankfully, the problem can be helped by the strength of many of our communities themselves and by the part that the churches and the villages play within it.
Reference has been made already to Sure Start, and I want to refer to Peterchurch, a village in Herefordshire, where a hugely innovative project is being undertaken by the church and the church council, which, in partnership with the Church Urban Fund, the Herefordshire Council and the DCSF, have raised £500,000. Part of the church has been set aside for a children’s centre which is run by Sure Start and serves the very scattered communities of the golden valley. It addresses the needs of all households, including especially those with the lowest incomes, by providing, among other things, integrated early learning and childcare for babies and children under the age of five, childcare which is suitable for working families, family support and outreach, child and family health services, and so on.
While it is fundamental that we commit ourselves at every level of organisation—governmental, statutory, voluntary including the churches, and so on—to reduce child poverty, it is also vital that we address, as the right reverend Prelate stressed, the associated issue of inequality. In part, measures of child poverty, as we have been reflecting, touch on that, but the recent work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett highlights widening inequality as exacerbating all the issues that those in poverty face. They say that among the wealthiest nations the four that have least inequality between richest and poorest also have the best quality of life for all. The General Synod of our church called for “minimum income standards”, as have others, which would strengthen the focus of eradicating child poverty and close the inequality gap.
Finally, while equality has risen within this country and the others of the United Kingdom, it has also risen across countries. That to which we aspire within our own shores must be that to which we aspire for others within our global village. We have committed ourselves to world millennium development goals which include much to do with child poverty. As we strengthen our processes and resolve again to eradicate that poverty in Britain, let us similarly strengthen again our resolve to achieve those millennium goals for the benefit of those who are far poorer in other countries. I look forward to pursuing some of these issues further and, above all, to their being reflected in future legislation and action.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the pleasure of congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford on his thoughtful maiden speech and welcoming him to your Lordships' House. As one of the resident humanists in your Lordships' House, it may seem ironic for me to be welcoming a Bishop. However, the right reverend Prelate’s speech shows what an asset he will be to this House. As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, I am delighted that we seem to have another recruit to the superb confederation of those who speak on their behalf in this House. The right reverend Prelate also has a deep interest in education. The speech we have just heard reflects an understanding and knowledge of children, but also deep sympathy and warmth for their cause. I am so pleased that he mentioned moral imperatives and the importance of poverty of aspiration.
The right reverend Prelate has been Bishop of Hereford since 2004, having previously been Bishop of Warwick. He is married to a professional artist and they have three adult children. I understand that he lives in the second-oldest timber-framed house in England, which he calls a “semi”. I asked yesterday whether he, like so many other Bishops I know, is keen on cricket. I was told that this was not the case but that he is interested in golf and fly fishing. I am not sure how he combines the two. Perhaps this is an example of his versatility. We are welcoming to the Bishops’ Benches someone with a wealth of experience, understanding and humour. I know that he will make a great contribution to the work of this House.
The End Child Poverty campaign recognises progress in tackling child poverty. Some 500,000 children have been lifted out of poverty, but we are still falling short of the 2010 target to halve child poverty. Eradication by 2020, even when that means less than 10 per cent of children and young people living in poverty and not absolute eradication, is a challenging target. This Bill provides, therefore, a welcome impetus to focus again on this all-important issue. This Government have done much to try to combat disadvantage through financial and educational initiatives. I know that more is being done to encourage low income parents to take advantage of child trust funds. Family intervention projects are working well. Sure Start is a success. The number of people in drug treatment has doubled in 10 years. I must declare an interest as chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. Those are examples of tackling the causes of poverty.
As many have said, we are faced with inequalities in income. In the UK, the richest 20 per cent is seven times richer than the poorest 20 per cent. Millions of children in the US and Britain seem destined to inequality from the day that they are born. Poverty engenders disadvantage and disadvantage is likely to result in poor cognitive, social and physical development and, in some cases, behavioural problems—not necessarily, but likely. As UNICEF points out—I declare an interest as a board member of UNICEF—the Child Poverty Bill represents an opportunity to enhance human rights and, specifically, child rights in the UK. These are rights to health, education, protection and development as an individual. We cannot punish children for the shortcomings of their parents.
The proposed establishment of the Child Poverty Commission is welcome in relation to monitoring progress on these fronts. I know that the House will follow with interest the composition and terms of reference of that commission. Consultation with children is essential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, stated. I would hope that consultation with parents, carers and those individuals and organisations who support children will also be carried out.
As many have said, it is also important that all young people are supported. Every child does matter. I know that there were amendments in Committee in another place to include young people under the age of 18 rather than 16 in addressing child poverty. International and European law support the age of 18 and under as the definition of the word “child”. The age of 18 is also relevant to child protection and Every Child Matters reforms. We are bedevilled by different definitions of what constitutes a child. While I understand the complication of age limits in relation to child benefit, as others have said, it is an issue.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission, together with other bodies supporting children and families, strongly supports this Bill and welcomes the duty on the Secretary of State to report on the four targets of relative low income, low income and material deprivation, absolute low income and persistent poverty, although there is some criticism that the targets are too income focused. Specific groups are mentioned in the commission's briefing, on which others have and no doubt will comment, including missing or under-represented groups, non-resident parents, lone parents, the disabled and looked-after children. This Bill and subsequent action on the Bill has to be about all children.
There has been an interesting discussion about targets and the causes of poverty, particularly in the very detailed speech of my noble friend Lady Hollis. One of the good things about the Bill is that it focuses not only on targets but on the means of delivering them. In particular, I welcome the emphasis on the collaboration between national and local government that my noble friend the Minister welcomed. Delivery at all levels, supported by a commission, is surely the way to achieve results.
The building blocks outlined in the strategy include not only support for parents but the involvement of health, education, childcare and social services and housing and social inclusion, all of which are essential in tackling child poverty. A closer relationship to the Every Child Matters outcomes, including enjoyment and leisure, may have been useful. The principles behind the building blocks are also important, with their emphasis on work being the best route out of poverty, on strong families, on early intervention and on the high-quality delivery of services. An existing example of excellent support to families, as I mentioned earlier, are the family intervention projects, and I hope that this model can be built on.
I shall dwell briefly on another group about which I have spoken before in many debates: kinship carers. The Minister will not be surprised at my raising them; he has several times met kinship carers, particularly grandparents, to listen sympathetically to their worries, and all concerned are grateful to him for this interest.
Poverty begins with parents and carers and may be intergenerational. This is the link that must be broken. Many grandparents who look after grandchildren permanently are impoverished. Some 300,000 children are living with family and friends: that is, with kinship carers. Three out of four such carers experience financial hardship. Four out of 10 live on £200 a week or less. Only one in six of local authority placements are with kinship carers; the rest are placed in non-relative foster care. Yet the outcomes for children in kinship care are much better than for those in other care situations. It makes financial and social sense to support kinship care. The number of care applications has increased by 47 per cent in recent months, and there is a shortage of foster carers for more than 8,000 families. Family and friends’ care is part of the solution, but kinship care must be properly supported. I shall table amendments to that effect.
This is a good Bill and is much needed. I agree that a cross-party approach is important. No doubt the Bill’s progress through your Lordships’ House will improve it further, and I look forward to interesting times and to the Minister’s response. I apologise for my husky and spluttering voice. It is not because of emotion; I have a sore throat.
My Lords, I begin by drawing attention to my interests as set out in the Register, and stress, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, what a pleasure and a privilege it is to follow the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, in which he indicated so clearly that he was not a Lord temporal at all but a Lord spiritual. He gave us a very high goal to reach in addressing child poverty, and perhaps most importantly he identified the two critical issues that we should address: the widening gap between rich and poor, and the breakdown of family life. These are the twin prongs of the fork that pins children into a life of poverty and distress.
The right reverend Prelate also indicated his belief in the need to meet the millennium development goals. I have my own concerns about the efficacy of the implementation of this Bill and whether or not the goals that it sets will be reached. Surely the fact that the Government at this very late stage have decided to set a strategy for conquering child poverty gives rise to questions, when noble Lords on all sides of the House, and indeed the UN family, are committed to meeting the millennium development goals. The two keys here are access to health and access to education. Reaching those two goals by the target date of 2015 would be the biggest way of sweeping aside child poverty in the United Kingdom that we have known.
My concern about the Bill is that the lines are drawn so narrowly that it is a matter of figures and targets and of identifying things that can be measured and that may indicate what child poverty is in the United Kingdom. I wait to hear whether these targets have been chosen because they are quantifiable and easily measurable, can be put down in figures, and are likely to clarify why child poverty in the United Kingdom is so pervasive and widespread. Will the Minister confirm this? I am intrigued that this Government are setting the strategy for the next Government and not for themselves. If this is the case, my concerns widen somewhat.
This Bill is said to comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child but, because of the narrowness of its drafting, it overlooks the fact that UK government policies also directly affect child poverty outside Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not least through the economic migration of workers into the United Kingdom. Throughout eastern Europe, children are being abandoned in institutions as a direct result of one or both parents going abroad to work. They come here to the United Kingdom in great profusion, as well as to other selected members of the European Union and to Russia, and they leave their children behind with members of their extended family, frequently the grandparents, who can rarely if ever meet either the extra economic burden or the big physical burden of bringing up their grandchildren. The grandparents simply do not have the strength, and they most certainly do not have the money.
Furthermore, many single mothers are inadvertently produced by the father travelling abroad to work, and money that is not forthcoming from the father working abroad can result in family breakdown and children being placed in institutional care. A key example of this is Russia withholding remittances from Moldova for quite a few years. Since 30 to 40 per cent of Moldova’s income is from remittances, you can only imagine the effect that this has had on children there. Moldova is not alone. The inescapable fact—alas, it is evidence-based—is that migratory workers suffer much higher rates of mental illness and of drug and alcohol addiction through loneliness. They also suffer hugely from family breakdown, because inevitably they find new families or new family links which they build up in their new countries.
Family breakdown in the countries of origin is now a common occurrence, so where are the stable and loving relationships which the children need and to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford so rightly referred? Many thousands of young children in residential care in the World Health Organisation European region are without a parent. In eastern Europe, only 14 per cent of children are in residential care as a result of child maltreatment; one in three have been abandoned by their parents, generally for reasons that I have already identified; one in two are there because they require a place to live, generally through family poverty that is unalleviated by government measures, such as child benefit, that are standard throughout the EU member states; and one in two children in social care are disabled. Only six per cent are true orphans with no living parent, although the institutions in which they are placed are often wrongly called orphanages. I refer noble Lords to Kevin Browne’s study of 2009, The Risk of Harm to Young Children in Institutional Care.
This Bill, which is so narrowly drawn, does not take these wider implications into account. I would like the Bill at least to pay tribute to joined-up government. Where is the trade provision to help these families to find jobs at home? Where is the provision to support them? What advice do the Government give to the Governments in question in eastern Europe? After all, we are the second biggest net contributor to the European Union, and the European Commission, with its wider Europe policy, is heavily engaged with all these nations. I visit British embassies there—they are magnificent—and I am deeply concerned about the withdrawal of funding from those embassies so that they have little capability to do those things that they can see so clearly could be done and in which we have so much competence ourselves.
I suggest that the Lisbon treaty and the work of the European Commission have failed to recognise the consequences of EU economic policies on the preservation of families and of the right of children not to be separated from their families against their will, to which Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child refers. To prevent child poverty throughout the European Union and here, there needs to be a concerted effort by all member states to look at the effects of economic policies on family life. The Bill does not address this in any way. While the European Union has no competence for children’s issues, and as we know has no legal base, none the less, EU member state responsibilities to implement fully the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was comprehensively identified by the Council of Ministers in 1998 when it declared that failure to implement the UNCRC would rank as failure to implement the treaty, with all the consequences and gravity that that implies. Her Majesty’s Government were inevitably part of that declaration and we are committed to it.
This Government and the government of every other member state bear a heavy responsibility, and hence the necessity for us to scrutinise UK child-oriented policies very severely at all times to ensure that the maximum potential help for children throughout the European Union and the wider Europe is built in. Falling back on Article 12 of the UNCRC, as the Bill before the House today does, is an inadequate and unsatisfactory position for Her Majesty’s Government to adopt.
The Forensic and Family Psychology Research Group at the University of Nottingham, led by Professor Kevin Browne, to whom I have already referred, has recently received significant ongoing financial support from the EU Daphne programme on violence against women and children to explore the full extent of child abandonment throughout Europe and to identify best practices for its prevention. The team has already identified the extent of young children in residential care across Europe and best practices connected with the deinstitutionalisation of these children by building services to support children returned to their families and the community. But progress in this endeavour has been slow and laborious because of a lack of commitment and funding.
The same amount of financial support needs to be made available to Bulgaria, which joined at the same time, as was made available to Romania, and to the new accession states of Croatia, Turkey, Macedonia and upcoming Bosnia, in addition to the other central and eastern European member states that joined in 2004. The Minister and I know that this has not happened. Personally, I believe that very little funding is required to swing the balance back towards support for families and children in the wider eastern European Union states and that the British Government, the Foreign Office and experts who can give advice from here would have a large part to play for a small pocket of funding, particularly if it were made available to the British embassies.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us in his new year’s message of our responsibilities to those outside our gates. Child poverty, perhaps we think of today, as here and now, and indeed it is. But I make no apology in the light of the Archbishop’s message and of the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford today to make the fundamental point that we as a critical and powerful member of the European Union could do so much more, yet the Government have pulled back funding for the Foreign Office and our embassies for this work. I do not believe that is right and I urge the Minister to think again and to incorporate into this Bill measures to cover the points I have mentioned.
My Lords, I want to begin by welcoming this Bill and the fact that it includes all of the United Kingdom in its measures to monitor and address child poverty. Child poverty has been endemic in Northern Ireland for a very long time. Currently we have around 96,000 children living in poverty. We have higher rates of persistent unemployment and economic inactivity. Those children who are living in poverty are much more likely to have done so for longer periods of time, so the effects are more likely to be ingrained and severe. I see this reflected in my own community and in those nearby me where some children are living in families that are experiencing third or even fourth generation unemployment. This affects children’s health, education, leisure and, in the long term, their aspirations and outcomes. I welcome any legislation or action that puts a responsibility on government to address this.
In terms of the Bill itself, I think that the clause which makes measuring child poverty the responsibility not simply of Westminster and the UK Government but of the devolved Administrations, is crucial. It is right that the Northern Ireland Executive should measure child poverty annually and report its findings to the Assembly. This is right both in terms of the democratic process and because it may act as an impetus to government to ensure that action is taken to begin to address child poverty rather than simply subscribing to an overall aim of reducing poverty without any clear actions to do so.
It is only in the last number of years that Northern Ireland has measured child poverty in terms broadly comparable with those elsewhere in the United Kingdom It is important that we provide an accurate picture across the UK of the overall levels of poverty and how all our children are experiencing poverty, otherwise it is too easy for some nations to fall far behind. I understand that there are still some difficulties in terms of measuring persistent poverty in Northern Ireland and I would urge the Government to ensure that the necessary steps are in place to enable this very significant measure of poverty to be reflected across the UK.
Northern Ireland has had Lifetime Opportunities, an anti-poverty strategy which was in draft for some years and was ratified last year by the Northern Ireland Executive. However, this has not seen any clear and consistent action really to begin to address child poverty. The lack of targets and associated programmes of action within the strategy has meant that it has had little or no effect. It is also a strategy that has had no associated resources, but relied on individual departments to undertake and resource actions for moving it forward; this has not worked. We have not seen the kind of significant programmes that would address child poverty where it is located in concentrated pockets. Some communities in Northern Ireland have rates of child poverty of over 90 per cent, a staggering figure, and any serious anti-poverty strategy must address it.
My understanding is that the NI Executive has agreed that the Child Poverty Bill should place a duty to produce a child poverty strategy on the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister and, importantly, should place an equivalent duty on all Northern Ireland departments to contribute to the strategy. It is then to be reviewed and progress monitored. This I welcome as vital if we are to make any real headway in addressing the underlying causes of child poverty. I also think it is crucial that the Northern Ireland Executive should demonstrate that all parties can work together on what is one of the most significant issues for children, families and communities. Clause 8 sets out a clear duty on the Secretary of State, when producing a child poverty strategy, to take account of the employment of parents, the development of the skills of parents, the provision of financial support, health education, social services, housing and the built environment, and the promotion of social inclusion. These are vital in addressing child poverty, and it is therefore crucial that there is also a duty on the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister and other NI departments to take these into account.
One example of why this is so important is that currently in Northern Ireland 47,000 young people aged 16 to 24 are not in education, employment or training. This represents around 20 per cent of that population group, which is higher than the United Kingdom average. A significant number of these young people are currently parents, or will go on to become parents in the next few years. However, in Northern Ireland we do not have a strategy to address the problem of getting them back into employment and training whereas England, Scotland and Wales all have such strategies already in place. We have yet to begin a pilot of the Future Jobs Fund that has been put in place for young people in Britain, where 95,000 jobs have been allocated for creation. In Northern Ireland, the Department for Employment and Learning is suggesting a 50-job pilot later in the month. We are clearly lagging behind on a significant issue linked to child poverty.
This illustrates why it is so important that the full range of duties under this legislation linked to the strategy and its actions are included for Northern Ireland. My understanding is that this amendment has been agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and I look forward to considering it more closely.
Finally, I wish to address the issue of resourcing. We cannot address child poverty without putting in place programmes and actions that are resourced to reduce the underlying causes. What is required is support for employment, access to affordable childcare, intensive family support, programmes that address school readiness or support children from disadvantaged areas to do much better at school, combined with measures that build communities and address the fragmentation that many disadvantaged communities experience.
We have heard a great deal of talk today about poverty and what it is, about family life and so on. For me, poverty is explained in the letters of the word: it is about powerlessness; it is about having no opportunities to do anything; it is about having no voice—everyone talks for you but not to you; it is about having low attainment in education; it is about having trust in no one; it is about having no resources. And the last and most important letter in the word poverty is “y”, which is about yourself; it is a very lonely place to be.
This Bill must be resourced. Without adequate resourcing it will not make a significant difference; with resourcing it may begin to reduce child poverty levels across the United Kingdom. On that basis, it is to be welcomed.
My Lords, I support many aspects of the Bill as a means of addressing the injustice of child poverty in our communities. We have a moral duty to bring the issue of child poverty to the fore while ensuring that the remedies to this endemic problem are implemented by both central and local governments. In the United Kingdom at present, 4 million children are living in poverty, after housing costs. As a highly industrialised country and a member of the G8, this is not only an abject failure but should serve as an embarrassment. This state of affairs was a contributory factor to our ranking bottom for levels of child well-being out of 21 OECD countries in the UNICEF Report Card 7. I hope that the Bill will be strengthened during its passage through your Lordships’ House in order to reassure the people of the United Kingdom that we are taking bold steps to eradicate this inequality which permeates so many young lives.
Clause 7 makes provision for the Child Poverty Commission and Schedule 1 elaborates on the components of the new body. It is important that we ensure that the organisation which is established is not only independent but also fully accountable to all layers of society. There is a genuine concern that the new organisation should not contribute to the bureaucratic burden of those in the voluntary sector and local communities in their work to tackle poverty among young people. The commission should give credence to the multi-faceted approach that is desperately needed successfully to reverse the unacceptable levels of deprivation among our children.
Clause 8 makes it incumbent on the Secretary of State to create a nationwide strategy to address the issue of child poverty. I support subsection (5)(a) as it ensures that due consideration will be given to the employment status and skills of parents when producing the scheme. Children quite often inherit poverty from their parents and, therefore, adult poverty and its causes are of equal importance in adequately addressing child poverty.
At present, 5 million adults are illiterate and 17 million struggle with basic literacy. A significant number of these adults are parents to some of the poorest children in our communities. As a result, the lack of opportunities these children face extends beyond economic poverty and affects their education and future employment prospects. Children who live in households where adults do not engage in any form of employment are not only the most deprived in our society but are more likely to follow this example once they leave compulsory education. This generational cycle of unemployment is a key factor in the rising levels of welfare dependency and deprivation.
However, a number of these parents who are in employment are typically in receipt of low incomes. The incomes of the poorest 20 per cent of families have consistently fallen every year since 2004. This inequality will not be rectified but in fact will be compounded by the Government’s proposal in the Pre-Budget report to increase national insurance contributions by 0.5 per cent for all workers who earn £20,000 or in excess of this figure. There will be families who earn this amount or slightly more who will fall into this bracket. One of the reasons commonly given as to why people on low incomes leave full-time employment is that they believe there is little financial incentive to work. One can argue that the rise in unemployment will have an undesirable effect on child poverty. There is a connection between adult unemployment and child poverty and measures taken to help more people to gain employment will improve the current state of child deprivation.
Clause 9(4) gives details of the relevant groups that the Secretary of State should consult when preparing the child poverty strategy. I am concerned about subsection (4)(c) as it implies that it is optional for the Secretary of State to consult children in regard to the strategy. The strategy can only benefit from the input of children who have experienced deprivation. If this clause remains elective rather than mandatory, the legitimacy of any future strategy may be compromised. Furthermore, it can be argued that failing to consult children could breach their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that young people have a right to be represented irrespective of the context. The contribution that children can make to future policy could be vital to measuring its impact. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the matter of the involvement of children will receive further consideration.
Clause 20 promotes collaboration among local agencies in tackling child poverty through providing local authorities with a duty to liaise with relevant bodies. I welcome this clause as it will promote greater dialogue between these groups when implementing the child poverty strategy to ensure the best outcomes for young individuals.
Child poverty is a complex issue. A multifaceted approach to tackling this problem is necessary, as there are divergent components which add to this injustice. Local authorities and agencies play a vital role in ensuring that children and the most vulnerable members of society receive the support that they need. It is only fair that they receive adequate training and resources to enable them to continue to fulfil these duties. Local authorities must be given the freedom and flexibility to address deprivation among young people without additional layers of bureaucracy. Levels of child poverty are higher among the black and Asian communities at 31 per cent and 42 per cent respectively, as compared with their white counterparts where it stands at 20 per cent. That situation concerns me.
Does the Minister agree that areas where child poverty is prevalent should be given extra resources in order effectively to implement the proposed child poverty strategy? Conversely, the offending rate among Muslim youth is rising. Can the Minister explain to your Lordships' House what steps the Government will take to address this situation?
One glaring omission from the Bill is the failure to recognise the relationship between family breakdown and child poverty. Research suggests that children from broken families are 75 per cent more likely to fail academically; 70 per cent more likely to engage in drug abuse and 35 per cent more likely to experience long-term unemployment and become reliant on state benefits. Approximately 1 million children live in homes where adults engage in alcohol abuse, whereas close to 350,000 young people have parents who struggle with drug addiction. Does the Minister agree that fixing our broken society will result in reducing the number of children living in poverty? Does he agree that we need to do more to combat alcohol and drug addiction as part of a child poverty strategy?
In 1999, the former Prime Minister made a pledge to end child poverty within 20 years. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that the Government will fail to meet their target of halving child poverty this year by 600,000 children. To call this situation disappointing would be a gross understatement.
Child poverty is not just about money. It encompasses access to education, healthcare and suitable housing. Education can provide a route out of deprivation. As a former visiting lecturer, I attach a great deal of importance to the power of education as a means to enhance the opportunities of young people irrespective of their background. I should like to see admission to tertiary education become a plausible aspiration for all young people who live in poverty.
The failure to make progress in this area reflects the narrow approach of the tax credits system. We cannot afford to waste the potential of our young people. We have both a civic and an economic duty to deal with the prevalence of child poverty in our society. The lack of success in dealing with this predicament calls for us to adopt a bold approach to ensuring that we eliminate this problem in the immediate future.
My Lords, as the last speaker in this section of the debate, I should say how much I have enjoyed the contributions of other noble Lords and profited from them. However, I disagree with at least some of the things that have been said. I was there when Tony Blair stated Labour’s intention to abolish child poverty by 2020. A sort of frisson went through the audience, because no one expected anything so far reaching at the time. It was announced in the William Beveridge lecture that Tony Blair gave in March 1999. William Beveridge was one of my predecessors as director of the London School of Economics, and of course is widely acknowledged as the founder of the modern welfare state. Blair deployed one of my favourite quotations from Beveridge in what he had to say. When he was 80, Beveridge wrote:
“I am still radical, and young enough, to believe that mountains can be moved”.
Blair was not quite 80 at that particular point, but he took as his theme the inspiration that mountains can be moved, and in that speech also affirmed Labour’s intention to introduce a minimum wage. The whole point of the speech was to say that the welfare system and the welfare state have to be radically revised because of the fundamental transformations happening in the wider social and economic order. That is an imperative that we still have to sustain today.
Child poverty was the right thing to be radical about. Other noble Lords have explained why—because of its pervasive nature and the massive impact that it has on all aspects of the wider life of society. Moreover, one should remember that at that time the country was faring spectacularly badly compared to other EU countries; depending on how you measure child poverty, it ranked 14 out of 15 EU countries. However, radicalism of intent has not been matched by radicalism of achievement. The mountain has proved extremely hard to move. It is an achievement, of course, to have lifted half a million children out of relative poverty. However, as other noble Lords have said, in terms of relative poverty, child poverty increased over the period from 2004-05 to 2007-08. The target for 2004-05 was missed. It is certain that, give or take the impact of the recession, the target for 2010 will also be missed.
The current Bill reaffirms seriousness of intent. For that reason, I am happy to support it. It is worth recognising that accompanying the Bill has been a flurry of documentation produced by the Government which has been very valuable—for example, Ending Child Poverty and Making it Happen and about five other major documents. These were supposed to initiate a debate with child poverty agencies, and this they have done. The responses from child poverty groups to the initial formulation of this Bill have been very valuable and I shall allude to one or two of them.
I want to make four points. I should like my noble friend the Minister to consider commenting at least on the first three, while the final one is for the opposition Front Bench. As an academic and a social scientist, I believe that a far more comparative analysis is needed than has so far informed the Government’s approach. We must do a lot more to learn from best practice elsewhere. In the documentation to which I referred, there are allusions to other countries, especially in respect to what should count as abolishing child poverty, but no systematic comparisons—only superficial comparisons are made. It is essential, in dealing with an entrenched problematic issue such as child poverty, that we scour the world and look at best practice. To my mind, that has not really been done.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, said that his triangle was the closest thing to an iron law in the social sciences. As a practising social scientist for many years, I have heard all that before, but there are no iron laws in the social sciences, nor is there anything approaching one. I would counsel not too much reliance on that aspect of what he said.
When you look at different industrial countries in comparative terms, you find that some of the countries that have the lowest rates of marriage and the highest rates of single-parent households also have the lowest rates of child poverty. I have in mind the Scandinavian countries in that connection. We should beware these specious statements about marriage and the family unless they are backed up with detailed comparative research.
Incidentally, it is not true that child poverty as such is not discussed in continental countries. I started working on the issue with social scientists in many countries 15 years or so ago, when it was certainly discussed. I made several trips to Scandinavia and the United States at that time, and of course the European Union enshrines a good deal of this in its own programmes.
Secondly, and this is aimed more directly at the Minister and the Government: you do not move a mountain simply by removing the topsoil. You have to have serious earth-moving equipment in order to do that, and my question is: where is it? It is common knowledge that the best study recently of child poverty, produced by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, says that something like £4.3 billion a year is needed if the Government are to get close to the targets that they are setting themselves. We have to remember, as other noble Lords have said, that since child poverty, at least by the EU measure, is relative, it gets harder and harder the more successful we are. It is not possible to achieve a step change, which is what is needed, without substantial resources being invested, and I do not quite see where they are.
As someone who has been working for the past year on climate change, I support what the Government are doing but it seems to be similar. We now have the most robust forward-looking framework for countering climate change, but our actual achievements are pretty minimal. We have only about 1 per cent of the total energy mix coming from renewable sources, compared with 40 per cent in Sweden. Funding will be necessary, whoever is in government, and it will to be substantial and regularised. I do not quite see where that is at the moment.
Thirdly, we will need to be much more radical at the level of policy innovation. I do not agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said in his address, but he is right that we have to be innovative, and he has tried to show this in the work that he has carried out in this area.
The existing strategy of depending on tax credits has been valuable, and I was pleased to hear that a Tory Government would sustain that, although I am not sure what the actual quantity would be. However, we know that it has its limits, and after the scenario I have described, these limits have been fairly well explored. We know that there is a lot of in-work poverty; something like 50 per cent of children who live in poverty are living in a family where at least one parent is in work.
All parties need more radical thinking at this point. If Beveridge could say, “I am still a radical at 80”, and mean it and still produce radical thinking, that is what we should be doing. We have to be a lot more innovative than current policy suggests. However, I do not support some of the things that noble Lords have said about the specific nature of the Child Poverty Bill not looking at rounded notions of children’s well-being. After all, the Government have put an enormous amount of effort into fostering child well-being; there have been many initiatives, beginning with Sure Start, which has been mostly successful, through to the Children Plan. Many other aspects of children’s well-being have certainly been the concern of the Government. You might say that it has not all worked as it should, but the kind of criticism I am referring to is misplaced.
I address my fourth point to the Tory Front Bench. I was pleased to hear the Conservative Party’s commitment to getting somewhere close to eradicating child poverty or making a serious dent in it. I was glad to hear, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said, that the party now accepts that poverty is a relative phenomenon. In other words, we are living in a society that is much too unequal. To me, countering child poverty is the main lever for potentially radically reducing overall inequality in our society.
I should like to hear a bit more from the Tory Front Bench about this, though. If targets are going to be abolished, for example, what will replace them? To eliminate child poverty is, of course, a target. You could define it as 5 per cent, as 10 per cent or, as the documentation does, as between 5 per cent and 10 per cent, but it plainly is a target. Targets give specific form to aspiration. I note that when Oliver Letwin mentioned the Tories’ new commitment—at least, new to me—to radically reducing child poverty, he described it as an aspiration, not a pledge. I should like the Tory Front Bench to say a bit about how the pledge could be more hard-edged.
I agree with other noble Lords who say that this should be a cross-party endeavour, without political point-making but with serious debate. If the parties indeed work together, we can start to move the mountain.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, because his experience is valuable and he made an interesting speech, which I am sure will repay careful study. I absolutely agree with his final point about co-operating across parties to try to achieve this end. There is no purpose in point-scoring; it is too serious a subject for that. I will say two other things about his speech. First, he was interested in moving mountains. It is a long time since 1999 and we are still floundering in the foothills. Expectations have been dashed. It was a brave vision and the then Prime Minister was probably right to set out that vision, but we still have a long way to go. What worries me more than anything else about that is that the earliest reductions are the easiest to achieve. The hardest bit is yet to come. The last 10 years will be harder than the first 10 years. I think everybody understands that.
Against a background of climate change, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer making statements yesterday about how growth will be devoted to fiscal consolidation, it is not surprising that people are worried about where resources will come from. He made a powerful point about the need for extra resources, and I agree with that. He also made an important point about best practice. Actually, we have been too dependent in the past on American practice. We should be looking much more to our sister European countries for some of the ideas that we might need to innovate in the 10 years remaining if we are to be successful.
People are right to be less than enthusiastic about where we are. The Minister probably has the argument on points, but I would not put it any higher than that. The debate has been interesting and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that it is always massively instructive to listen to colleagues because there is such a range of experience and different points of view. I will respond to some of them from my own perspective.
I said that noble Lords were reflecting disappointment in urging the Government to do more. There is nothing new in this Bill. Nothing will be different after it is passed. I say that as someone who has watched this argument from the Beveridge lecture in 1999. I was one whose jaw dropped when the commitment was made. Since then, there has been a huge amount of activity in terms of developing the policy such as in the 2004 Child Poverty Review, which was a substantial Treasury document. In 2006, we had Lisa Harker with a very important take on what needed to be done. In 2008, we had an interesting and instructive report from the Commons Select Committee, with a plethora of recommendations and warning signs about what had to be done. We have had public service agreement targets and the 2002, 2004 and 2007 CSR periods. We had Opportunity for All. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, was absolutely right: it is a document that I read avidly and it has not really recovered since she gave up the editorship. We have had targets all over the place. Is the Secretary of State expected to resign in 2010 or 2020, whoever he or she may be, if these targets are not met? What is different about putting them on the statute book? That is an important question.
I now turn to the commission because the Child Poverty Commission is not that new either. We have been blessed with lots of experts. The Social Policy Research Unit at York, with Jonathan Bradshaw and his colleagues, and many other institutions—not just the LSE—have done marvellous, world-leading work on analysis of the problem and on offering prescriptions. What will the Child Poverty Commission add to what has been done there and in the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, or work done by Donald Hirsch? It is world-class and I do not see how the Child Poverty Commission will find it easy to better that. It is all available free anyway, so what will the Child Poverty Commission bring that has not been available to us in the past?
One thing that I would like the commission to undertake is firm qualitative research—and no doubt we will discuss that in Committee. I am particularly worried now about some of the persistent levels of poverty in working families in the United Kingdom. I have been subscribing to and agree with the Government’s active labour market policies, and I concede that the Government have done a lot. I acknowledge that, but we are now finding that there is persistent poverty in working families. That might be because there is a lot of part-time work in the system now. We need to understand that because if people think that it is safe to get people into jobs and assume that the problem is solved, they are wrong if some of these statistics are right. Maybe there is some work to be done there.
I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Freud. I do not know anything about iron triangles. I did O-grade geometry and there are isosceles, scalene and obtuse triangles. I do not mean obtuse to be a derogatory term because it is a type of triangle with an angle of greater than 90 degrees within it, but I will go away and learn about iron triangles as well as three-legged stools for mothers and fathers and the state. I will go away and think about all those things.
Although the noble Lord, Lord Freud, was trying to establish clear blue water between himself and everybody else, I do not think that he is that far away from us in saying that we have to produce the resources in a holistic way. I agree with him on that. He is worried about family breakdown and I know where he gets that worry from. My good friend Mr Andrew Selous is a very good thing and I am in favour of him. The only thing about which I disagree with him—he was a member of the Select Committee on which I served—is that he has this thing that families need fathers; he thinks that everybody needs to be married before the world will be right. I do not think that that is true. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, made the important point that in Scandinavian countries lone-parent families are very successful, so I do not buy the idea that the vows make the difference. I think that you can support and work with family units that are less than two married people.
If the noble Lord, Lord Freud, is to address family breakdown, addiction, worklessness and the lack of educational skills, I am with him, but that needs not only a holistic approach but investment. I notice that neither he nor the Minister mentioned Clause 15, which is the get-out for any Government in the long term, as it makes all this subject to financial capability and that kind of thing. The Committee will want to drill into what that means for both major parties. If it represents a complete block on extra resources, we really are toiling.
All parties at the coming election will need to find some way of devoting extra resources to this problem, whether through the benefits system or through the more holistic approach that I think the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has brought to the table. He is an innovator. He is the man who won the argument about getting the Treasury DEL and AME rules changed. However, if it is true that you can do that in a welfare/work context, why do we not say to people who live in families that are multiply deprived and in persistent poverty, “If you can prove that for an expenditure of £X,000 you can trade your way out as a family unit, never mind the benefit that you are on”—Professor Gregg has persuaded me that it does not matter what benefit you are on—“and if you can find your way to the table, to the local authority or the Jobcentre Plus personal adviser, and say ‘Look, just get me the resources, the grant or the loan that I need to become a nurse or a teacher and I can get my family into a much better place in three or five years’, we will say to you, ‘Come on down!’”? We should give those people the money. That is the kind of innovation that I hope we will be able to look to in the longer term.
How should we present all this? The British population hates poor people, mainly due to the Daily Mail. That is an exaggeration, but only a slight one. There is a poisonous atmosphere to the debate, which is all about “scroungers” and the rest of it. We should start changing the rules. My noble friend Lady Walmsley made an important point about the cost-benefit analyses in the IFS and Joseph Rowntree Foundation studies. We should demonstrate that by spending money early—by early investment, pre-empting some of the worst effects of the long-term disadvantage that poverty causes—we can save the taxpayer money. We will explore the figures in Committee. I defer to colleagues who know more about the human values and moral virtues of protecting the life chances of individuals who are young and need protection, as they do, but I believe that we should get a bit more realistic about presenting this debate. We should take a much more cost-benefit analysis approach and say, “We can save a lot of money doing it this way”. If we did that, we would be much better able to engage public support.
I enjoyed the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate. I understand the rurality issue. I come from south-east Scotland, where my constituency was, so it was music to my ears when he identified the fact that, although the needs are different, they are just as great. I hope that the Committee will have the chance to look at some of that. There are all sorts of issues in which we can get involved in Committee.
More than anything else, as a political institution that is interested in doing something in this area, we have to understand that, although money is of course going to be difficult to find, we must find ways, if we are to make any progress, of investing sensibly over the next 10 years in domestic households that are at the bottom of the social ladder. I am absolutely up for looking at new ways of doing this. There are problems with some of the Centre for Social Justice suggestions, which seem to ignore the fact that benefits are for households while taxation is about individuals. I do not yet see how those marry properly, but that is perhaps because I do not understand the iron triangle.
I was told by the noble Lord, Lord Freud, in the period between the debate stopping and starting again, the very bad news that the book is 800 pages long. It might take me until next Christmas to read that. We must all expose ourselves to any new ideas that we can find, but we must also rededicate ourselves collectively—across the House, through all parties and the Cross Benches—to finding extra resources if we are going to tackle this problem adequately.
My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. In particular, I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford to your Lordships’ House. I congratulate him on his maiden speech and agree, in particular, with his emphasis on the importance of the family.
This has been a very interesting debate which has quite properly highlighted the strength of feeling that many have about the importance of reducing child poverty. As my noble friend Lord Freud made clear in his opening remarks, it is a strength of feeling that the Conservative Party wholeheartedly shares. During the Bill’s passage through another place, it was sad to see many of the debates degenerate into acrimonious arguments about what did or did not happen more than 15 years ago. Before I go any further, I reiterate the Conservative Party’s support for the Minister’s desire to reduce the number of children growing up in poverty, and echo my noble friend Lord Sheikh in his general support for the Bill.
I am sure that your Lordships’ House will debate the detailed provisions in its usual constructive manner, and that we will be able to pass a Bill that gives the Government the powers they need to make the necessary changes to people’s lives. Unfortunately, the Bill is not yet there. The Bill is flawed, not in what the Minister claims it is setting out to do—we all agree with that—but in how it tries to achieve those aims.
I am very pleased, as I am sure are all other noble Lords, that the Minister responsible for piloting the Bill through our Chamber is the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for whom we all have the greatest respect. I hope that, since his department is keeping control of the Bill, we will see a greater appreciation of the power of individualised intervention, as opposed to the Treasury’s often narrow-minded and ultimately ineffective reliance on financial manipulation. I hope that the Minister will be willing to see the principles on which the Welfare Reform Act was based translated into this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, rightly emphasised, as did my noble friend Lord Freud, the importance of understanding the causes of poverty and addressing these directly, rather than sweeping them under the carpet and treating only the symptoms with direct financial transfers. As an IFS report commissioned by the Government tells us, it would take £19 billion a year in today’s money to achieve a solution through purely financial means. Of course, that was a static analysis; it ignored the spiralling effects of encouraging more and more people to live on benefits.
Even the Government agree that this is unsustainable, especially when their own finances are in a hole to the tune of £178 billion. If the Government have failed to meet their own 2010 target after a decade of unprecedented growth, the next Government will clearly have to use different and more effective tactics to meet the targets in the Bill during the bust into which Labour’s economic policies have driven us. Unfortunately, the Bill does nothing to set out what tactics this Government think should be used. It talks of creating strategies but gives no clue as to what those strategies should be. It would be interesting to hear what the Minister thinks were the flaws in Labour’s policies in recent years that have led, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, mentioned, to the 2010 target being missed. What changes does he think should be made in order to do better in the future?
The Bill is also silent on many other important details that will be critical to successful implementation. There has been confusion, for example, about the intended role the commission will play. We would support, of course, the establishment of a credible body that focuses on collating and commissioning high quality and relevant research and giving unbiased and constructive advice to the Government. However, there are considerable and understandable fears that instead we will be landed with just another lobby group, this one taxpayer funded, which adds little value to government policies.
We need to explore as well how the Government envisage local authorities and partner authorities will meet their obligations under the Bill. What difference will this legislation make? Local authorities are, of course, the right place to start; poverty is very much a local problem, caused by local issues and needing locally targeted solutions. However, as my noble friend Lord Sheikh suggested, local authorities already have significant obligations on them to look out for those in their area who need support. We must make sure that these provisions empower local authorities and do not stifle them or bury them under more box-ticking paperwork.
Our most fundamental disagreement with the Bill is, as my noble friend Lord Freud made clear, that it focuses on the symptoms, not the causes, of poverty. We will seek throughout Committee to ensure that the measures target those experiencing genuine deprivation. As my noble friend Lord Freud said, children as a group do not generally have incomes or wealth, so we are driven to the income and wealth of their families as a proxy. However, it is a deeply unsatisfactory proxy because not all families share out their income as we would like. The Centre for Social Justice estimates that about a million and a half children are growing up in substance-abusing households, either of drugs or alcohol. That is likely to be a very substantial proportion of the children we are concerned about. What good does it do to tackle the problems in these families by increasing benefit payments? Surely that is a strategy designed in these cases to delight the local drug dealers and off-licence stores.
In order to make a real difference to these children’s lives, we must be honest about those factors which lead to poverty. As my noble friend Lord Freud said, relationship breakdown, substance abuse, unemployment—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford also referred to that—and lack of education, which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned, are the big four causes. Although they might not cover every single example of a family struggling to bring up a child in poverty, they are certainly among the reasons for most of them. The Bill must address these causes squarely.
Nor must the Bill become a tool for whitewashing. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester referred to the vital need to pay the closest attention to those deepest in poverty. We agree that it would be quite wrong for government to focus attention on those families who fall just under the target income levels. Indeed, I am sure that this is not the Minister’s intention. However, such a flawed policy would be the most efficient way of meeting these targets and allowing a Government to present the appearance of making headway. We must make sure that the reports on these targets give accurate information about what difference the Government’s policies are making to real people, not just to statistics.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, the Bill must instead be targeted at those most in need. Children in care or those caring for a disabled parent, to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred, are often the most vulnerable and those at risk of suffering serious or persistent poverty. What is there in the Bill to make sure that, in the desire to meet an arbitrary target, those most deserving of government assistance are not ignored in favour of those closer to the 60 per cent mark?
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for whom I have great respect, asked what would replace targets if a Conservative Government were to abolish them. My noble friend did not say that we would abolish targets; he said that we needed the right targets. He said that we will aim to widen the agenda and build up targets that are more likely to address the underlying causes of poverty. Our debates in Committee will allow us to expand on that. I dare not, as a layman, go into the intricacies of the iron triangle, but I shall say for today that a Conservative Government would certainly seek to reduce poverty among children, but we must address the causes, not the symptoms.
The Government have much to explain in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, asked why they are tying future Governments to a target when they have failed to meet their own, but that question has not yet been answered. I look forward to the debates in Committee, where I hope we will be able to extract considerably more detail about these provisions and persuade the Government to improve the Bill.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for a fascinating debate and for their generally warm welcome for the Bill. I acknowledge the honest doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and I hope that along the way we will be able to encourage him to feel warmer about the Bill.
I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford on his impressive and wide-ranging maiden speech and I look forward to his future contributions, some of which, I hope, will be on subsequent stages of this Bill. He talked to us about the role of the church in supporting families, and he made the telling point that setting targets of itself does not change things; those targets have to be met. I agree with that. He referred to issues around poverty of aspiration. The Bill is not only about targets; it is about strategies that should seek to ensure that all children do not suffer socio-economic disadvantage. There are fascinating issues around lone parents and how we encourage them into work and the support that we have given them in the Welfare Reform Bill which we debated not long ago.
It is encouraging to listen to the many interesting contributions to this debate. It is clear that this House, across parties, is passionate about tackling child poverty and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to realise their potential. I look forward to working with noble Lords to ensure safe passage of this measure through your Lordships’ House in what we know will be a truncated Session.
I shall try to deal with as many of the points raised as I can. I shall start with the noble Lord, Lord Freud. I say to him, as he talked about figures since 2004-05, that I do not think he gave proper recognition to the measures that were announced in and since the Budget 2007 which should lift a further 550,000 children out of poverty. I will come on to some of the detail of those measures later. There is also the simulation and the work that IFS did, which predicted that child poverty would fall by more than half a million between 2006-07 and 2010-11 to around 2.3 million; so it is not right to represent that these things are mired and moving in an increased direction. The noble Lord talked about the UNICEF report and suggested that the UK performs badly on child well-being. We accept that the 2007 UNICEF report highlighted some significant challenges for children’s well-being in the UK, and we are not complacent. However, much of the data used are old, with some taken around 2003 and some relating to 1999 to 2001.
The noble Lords, Lord Freud and Lord De Mauley, suggested that in a sense our approach is all about income transfers. That is not the case. Certainly, income transfers, the working tax credit and child tax credit in particular, have been a key part of the strategy to tackle poverty and child poverty, but the building blocks set out in Clause 8 cover a whole range of key policy matters—some of which, from the noble Lord’s analysis, we actually share. It is to do with employment and skills; it is to do with health and education; it is to do with childcare and social services; and it is to do with housing. It is not just about looking at income.
Regarding the iron triangle, if the noble Lord, Lord Freud, looks at the data, he will see that fewer people experience high rates of withdrawal of benefits than under the predecessor Government. I am not sure if that was the noble Lord’s party at the time, but if he looks at the data, that is the case. A lot of effort has gone into making sure that work pays through things such as the national minimum wage and tax credits.
The commission is not a political appointment and the OCPA rules will apply to it. It is a genuine advisory body and I hope that the noble Lord would welcome that.
He asked why we use the 60 per cent median income measure. The Government consulted widely on the measure of child poverty during 2002 and 2003, and it was strongly agreed that income was central and that 60 per cent of median threshold is an internationally recognised standard. While other EU countries do not have statutory targets on this measure, all use this indicator as part of the annual monitoring of social inclusion undertaken by each member state.
The noble Lord and others asked why we focus only on targets around income. The targets explicitly focus on tackling income poverty and material deprivation. This reflects our aim that children should not live in poverty in the UK or suffer the effects of wider socio-economic disadvantage. Ensuring a focus on income and material deprivation is central to that. Indeed, income poverty is at the heart of the Bill because of the evidence of the impact that it has on children’s lives, both in their experiences now and their chances for the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, also talked about the accuracy of the poverty statistics and said that these were not a sound basis on which to be judged. The HBAI is an annual statistical series that has been running for two decades. It is a well-established comprehensive data source for estimates of poverty and measuring UK household income distribution. It complies with international best practice in measuring household income.
A number of noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Freud and Lord Northbourne, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford in particular—talked about child poverty and family breakdown, and touched upon marriage. Research shows that the quality of parental relationships and family functioning, rather than its form, has the greatest effect on children. It is just too simplistic to say that family breakdown causes poverty. Research has shown that children are at an increased risk of adverse outcomes following family breakdown. However, the difference between children from intact and non-intact families is small, although statistically significant. Some children can actually benefit when breakdown brings to an end a harmful family situation—for example, when there are high levels of parental conflict, including violence. Evidence suggests that although child poverty is associated with family breakdown, there is no clear causal link. It is the high level of worklessness among lone parents that increases the risk of poverty for children in lone-parent families, rather than the family structure itself.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked when we would publish the families and relationships Green Paper. We are planning to do that later in the year; I do not have a precise date, and I cannot promise that the paper will be available in draft by the time we reach Committee stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, also referred to the couple penalty. Tax credits treat couples and lone-parent households equally and are not designed to favour any particular arrangements. Lone-parent households face particular difficulties, as is evidenced by the fact that the risk of a child growing up in poverty is twice as high in a lone-parent family as in a coupled family. Arguments that the tax and benefits system disadvantages couples are too often based on simplistic comparisons that assume that a separated couple will continue to pool their income. At this juncture I shall not dwell on reinstating on some basis the married couple’s allowance and on how much that might cost. However, it seems to me that any approach of that nature is most likely to produce less for the poorest in our society compared with the richest.
The noble Lord, Lord Freud, and others talked about equality in income distribution. Although income inequality is slightly higher today than it was in 1997-98, movements have been small compared with the sharp increases in inequality in the 1980s. The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ analysis showed that tax and benefit reforms since 1997 have clearly been progressive, benefiting the less well-off relative to the better-off. Without those reforms, inequality would have risen a good deal further.
The noble Lord chided new Labour for being friends of the rich. He may wish to know that living standards for the poorest 20 per cent of households have risen by more than 1.5 per cent a year in real terms since 1997-98, keeping pace with the incomes of the richest 20 per cent of households. In the 1980s and mid-1990s, living standards for the poorest 20 per cent of households rose by less than 1 per cent a year compared with 2.5 per cent for the richest 20 per cent of households. It does not seem to bode well to propose inheritance tax cuts for the very rich. I do not see how that will help child poverty.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Walmsley, said that a target of 10 per cent would not mean the eradication of child poverty. I suggest that less than 10 per cent is an ambitious but challenging goal for sustaining the eradication of child poverty and will put the UK’s child poverty rate firmly among the best in Europe. A relative child poverty level of below 10 per cent would be the lowest in this country since at least 1961 and would more than reverse the doubling of relative child poverty between 1979 and 1998-99. I acknowledge that it is a challenging target.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, talked about disability costs and equivalised income. She is right that the current low-income measure does not take into account the extra costs of disability. This is a difficult issue. We recognise that additional costs are associated with disability but research shows that these vary significantly in level and nature. There is no general agreement on how to measure these costs but perhaps we can develop these discussions further in Committee; indeed, I am sure that we will.
The noble Baroness also asked whether local strategies add up to the national target. Local action to tackle child poverty will make a big contribution towards achieving the national targets. Success in tackling child poverty requires the delivery of high-quality services to support parents into employment, increase the take-up of financial support and improve children’s life chances. However, the 2020 targets cannot be achieved by local action alone; national Governments must, for example, take responsibility for the tax credit and benefit system.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, raised issues concerning looked-after children and asked whether they were missing out on the measurements. The vast majority—something like 84 per cent—of looked-after children and children in care are placed with foster parents, for adoption or with their parents and so reside in private households, which will be captured by the targets in the Bill. Therefore, the majority of looked-after children will be covered.
The noble Baroness asked whether the measure should be after housing costs. There are a number of reasons why the Government have chosen to maintain a before housing costs measure in the Bill, although I noted that the noble Lords, Lord Sheikh and Lord Freud, quoted the after housing costs data. First, income is measured before housing costs to allow comparisons with other European countries that also measure poverty in this way. We have stated our ambition to be among the best in Europe and therefore such comparisons are vital. Secondly, as the noble Baroness predicted I would say, measures of housing quality are currently included in the list of items used for the combined low-income and material deprivation measure. Of course, measuring income after housing costs can understate the relative standard of living that some individuals may have by paying more for better-quality accommodation.
The noble Baroness also asked about burdens on local partners and whether we would impose a duty on local authorities which would add burdens and bureaucracy to what they already face. Fulfilling that duty need not be an additional burden. Local partnerships should already be taking action to improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged families in their areas. A number of local authorities are already taking significant strategic action to tackle child poverty.
My Lords, I was just about to say that I have a long list of support which will be made available, particularly by the Child Poverty Unit, to local authorities to support them in their endeavour. Given what is happening on the clock, perhaps I can pick that up in Committee or write to the noble Baroness about that. There is much support for these plans.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about housing. Clearly, it is one of the building blocks on which the strategy has to focus. Since 1997, when there was a £19 billion backlog of repairs to social housing and 2 million homes were below basic decency standards, some £23 billion of public and private money has been invested in improving social housing—that is up to April 2006—and over £40 billion in total will have been invested by the end of 2010, making a significant difference to the decent homes standards.
The noble Earl also referred to the importance of good quality childcare. Childcare places have more than doubled since 1997. For the first time, local authorities now have a statutory duty under the childcare Act to secure, as far as is reasonably practicable, sufficient childcare for working parents.
The noble Earl, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, talked about vulnerable children excluded from the targets. The targets can apply only to children for whom we can measure household income. The surveys, which will be used to measure progress, will be the best instruments available for measuring the household income of children across the UK. Although some children from vulnerable groups are not covered by the surveys, including some disadvantaged groups such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, asylum-seeker children and looked-after children, no children are excluded from the surveys on the basis of status. I stress that the strategies which have to be introduced are for all children in the UK.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester spoke about his engagement with children and his understanding of their needs and aspirations. In part, that illustrates why issues of material deprivation and persistent poverty are part of our targets.
My noble friend Lady Hollis, as ever, produced a thought-provoking contribution, running through the targets which we have proposed and how they might apply. When incomes generally remain static or maybe decline, of course, having an absolute poverty target must mean that, if it were met, the income of the poorest would nevertheless have to increase. That is why we have the absolute poverty target.
On the point that one way of tackling poverty is to seek to ensure that benefits are uprated by more than inflation and by more than earnings, I shall run through some of the measures that have occurred in recent years. In April 2008, we increased the child element of the child tax credit by £175 a year. In October 2008, the child maintenance disregard in out-of-work benefits increased from £10 a week to £20 a week and there was a full disregard in child maintenance for housing benefit and council tax benefit at that time as well. We increased the eldest child benefit rate by £20 a week and, in April 2009, we increased the child element of the child tax credit by £75 above indexation. So in a way we are addressing some of the points that she raised.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said that early intervention is important, and I agree. She referred to the fact that there is a risk under the targets that we focus on those who are nearest to the border-line. That is why we have more than one target and each target must be met; it is not a question of picking the target that you want. She raised the point, as did the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, about Clause 15. Let me be clear that the duty to meet the target in the Bill is absolute. The only way to get out of the duty is by returning to Parliament to repeal the legislation. Clause 15 is about how we meet the targets, not whether we meet them. The clause in no way mitigates a failure to meet the targets; it simply means that the Government are required to consider the most cost-effective way to reach them in order to protect the taxpayer's pocket and the wider economy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to funding for the banks. Perhaps we should not get into that debate at this hour. She talked about the independence of the poverty commission. I should stress that it is an advisory committee. Of course, it must publish its advice, and it must be consulted. Those are requirements under the Bill, so it will be plain for all—Parliament and the public—to see what advice the commission has given. As I mentioned earlier, the OCPA process will be the basis on which appointments are made. I, too, very much hope that we can get a cross-party consensus on this measure. That is important. In my opening remarks, I dealt with issues about consultation with children. Perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness about the definition of “child” and why it differs from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is to do with how the surveys are constructed.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said that he had doubts about the Bill because he thought that it ignored the role of parents. With great respect, I do not believe that that is the case. The Government are committed. We have not lost faith in parents, as the noble Lord suggested. During 2006-08, the Government provided local authorities with a parenting strategy support grant. That provided funding to enable local authorities to develop and implement a strategic approach to parenting support and to build on strategic approaches already in place. The Government recommend that local authorities appoint a parenting commissioner to oversee and develop that strategic approach. We have also published guidance for local authorities on developing a parenting strategy.
I think that I have dealt with the issue of the Green Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, asked why we should focus on child poverty rather than family poverty. The Bill is about helping children in poverty, stemming from the Government’s pledge in 1999, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Giddens, but supporting parents and families as well as children and young people is a central part of tackling child poverty. An effective child poverty strategy must support families by improving the employment opportunities of their parents, providing access to good quality and affordable childcare for their parents, and so forth.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford talked about minimum income standards. We are committed to ensuring that the tax and benefit system provides adequate financial support, and families in the poorest fifth of the population are about £5,000 a year better off as a result of personal tax and benefit changes. However, in providing extra money to these groups, we need to be careful not to reduce their incentives to work. Many of the most disadvantaged people are able to work, given appropriate support, and work remains the most sustainable route out of poverty. Guaranteeing that out-of-work benefits lift families out of poverty would be a resource-intensive and unsustainable approach to tackling child poverty. It would require substantial spending to achieve and could entrench the intergenerational cycles of worklessness that are one of the underlying causes of child poverty.
Time is moving on. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford talked about rural poverty not being included in the strategy. Rural poverty is an important issue, as families in rural areas may face additional burdens as a result of their location or because of lack of good transport links, especially difficulties in accessing employment opportunities or services such as health, education and leisure facilities, but those are part of the building blocks that must be addressed in strategies, both local and national.
My noble friend Lady Massey again raised kinship carers. I know she is committed to this cause and I pay tribute to her. The evidence points to care by family and friends being the best approach for many children who cannot be looked after by their birth parents. We want to recognise fully the additional support needs of this group as well as the contribution that family and friend carers make to the life chances of vulnerable children. My noble friend will be aware that we held a cross-government grandparents summit to listen to the experiences of grandparents. This will feed into the families and relationships Green Paper, which is due for publication later this year, in which the role of grandparents and the wider family will be a key theme.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, made an extremely interesting contribution and challenged me for anything like a detailed reply. I should make clear that the Bill is focused on poverty in the UK, but what she said was very thought-provoking. I shall take this matter away, write further and perhaps set up a meeting with her to see how, and the extent to which, the points she raised have already been addressed or might be addressed. However, it is outwith the scope of the Bill as drafted.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blood, vividly described the downward spiral of deprivation that parts of her community have suffered. I am pleased that she welcomed the role of the devolved Administrations provided for in the Bill. In particular, she referred to difficulties on measurements of persistent poverty. So far as Northern Ireland is concerned, they particularly arise because of the problems of getting an appropriate sample size. We are looking at the Understanding Society publication, which is a more detailed study.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, talked about abject failure. I simply refer him to his Government’s experience on child poverty. He talked about a multifaceted approach, and I agree. He talked about the need to help people reach employment and the impact of unemployment on poverty. Again, I agree, but I point out to him that when the Government put £5 million funding into Jobcentre Plus for things such as the Future Jobs Fund, his party opposed it. He talked about a broken society. That is his term; it is not one that I would use. The data about ethnic minorities and child poverty are correct. We need to make sure that the strategies that are developed focus on those issues.
My noble friend Lord Giddens again challenged me with a thought-provoking contribution. He talked about the need for a more comparative analysis with other countries. We have learnt a lot from our experiences over the past 10 years, and the target has always been incredibly challenging. Experience has shown how ambitious the interim and long-term goals are. We understand the importance of assessing the contribution that a wide range of public services can make in tackling child poverty, but we also need to make sure that we understand what progress other countries have made and that that analysis is properly fed into the strategies that are being developed. My noble friend asked where the earth-moving equipment is. I think the IFS suggested that £4.2 billion would get us to the interim target for child poverty by 2010, but that amounted to something like increasing the child element of the child tax credit by about 30 per cent on top of the uprating already planned, and that is not something that we see as currently affordable. He asked whether I agree that we need more radical policy innovation. That depends upon what “radical” means. I have seen plenty of documents with “radical” stuck in the front to imbue the strategy with some aura. If “radical” is relevant and can be delivered and make a difference, then I agree.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, talked about expectations being dashed. I accept that there is a long way to go, which is what this Bill is all about. I was asked what difference the Bill will make. It will make a difference because a clear duty will be put on the Government and local government to meet targets and to produce strategies. There will be reporting obligations and obligations will be imposed on local authorities. As to what the Child Poverty Commission will bring, I believe that it will bring expertise from people who are knowledgeable in this field and can advise the Government in a way which can make a real difference.
Finally, I acknowledge what the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, termed as general support for the Bill in tackling child poverty. I am still unclear as to what type of targets he would wish to substitute for those in the Bill, those which he would seek to remove and those which his party would not see itself to be bound by. But perhaps that will emerge from the debates in Committee. I do not think that there is confusion on the role of the commission. If there is, Committee will be the chance to understand and to iron out that confusion.
Our vision is of a fairer society in which no child is left behind and has their future life chances damaged by living in poverty. Still too many families are on the edge of coping and we should not accept that there are children and families who lack the basic needs enjoyed by so many in this country. The Government are working to tackle injustice and inequality, and to create a country where every child can grow up enjoying their childhood and be full of ambitious expectations for their future; where everyone, whatever their background, has the opportunity to lead a healthy prosperous life; and where cohesive communities prosper in safe and secure environments. Child poverty stands in the way of these goals, which is why we are determined to deliver change and to defeat it. That is the purpose of the Bill and I commend it to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, there are now 12 speakers in the next debate. My noble friends Lord Corbett of Castle Vale and Lady Ford are sadly unable to participate this evening. If Back-Bench Members keep their remarks to around six or seven minutes, we should be able to rise shortly after, but not too long after, 10.40 pm.
Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am sure that even at this late hour the whole House welcomes this opportunity to note the excellent progress being made by all of the parties involved in delivering the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. I look forward with great anticipation to the contributions that will be made by noble Lords in all parts of the House who not only have so much detailed knowledge of sport and the Olympics but are also making such huge individual contributions in planning for London 2012 and in securing the legacy afterwards.
I am pleased to be able to tell the House that London 2012 continues to be on time and on budget. With well over 40 per cent of the construction programme now complete, the Olympic Delivery Authority has made outstanding progress in creating the Olympic park and venues for 2012, and already it is possible to see how dramatically the landscape of east London is being transformed. The external structure of the Olympic stadium is now complete, with work progressing on schedule. The impressive aquatics centre roof is also in place, along with the huge land bridge that forms part of the roof of the venue and which will provide the main pedestrian entrance to the Games.
The construction of the distinctive velodrome is proceeding well, while the 4,500 tonne steel outer structure of the international broadcast centre was completed towards the end of last year, along with the first of the 11 residential plots in the Olympic village. I had the good fortune to be taken around the site by John Armitt and his colleagues on 22 September 2009. The progress that had been made up to then was very impressive, and a great deal more has been achieved since.
It is not only what the ODA is achieving but how it is doing it that is particularly inspiring. The London 2012 big build is breaking new ground for sustainability. It will be the first major event of any sort to undertake a full analysis of its carbon footprint, with the aim of minimising emissions. The measures that have been put into place will reduce by 400,000 tonnes the amount of CO2 that is produced and will make the Games a model for future mega-events worldwide.
The Games will provide a unique opportunity to promote healthy living. As an example, tobacco and cigarettes will not be sold at any of the Olympic venues. Smoking will be prohibited in all the enclosed Olympic and Paralympic venues, and LOCOG is currently looking at how it can best provide a healthy and enjoyable environment for all visitors to the Games.
The construction of the Olympic park and venues are not only helping to provide the basis for the regeneration of east London, but have helped to create opportunities for businesses across the UK in a time of economic adversity. Contracts worth £6 billion will be directly procured by the ODA and by LOCOG, generating tens of thousands of supply-chain opportunities for UK businesses. Of the 1,000 companies that have already won more than £5 billion of work to supply the ODA, more than 98 per cent are UK-based, 46 per cent are outside London, and around two-thirds are small or medium-sized businesses.
At the end of last year, the Olympic Delivery Authority produced a nationwide snapshot of some of the British businesses that have won 2012 contracts to date. It shows that building the venues and infrastructure for the Games is truly a nationwide endeavour, whether it is a basketball arena from Glasgow or structural decking from Poole, wetland planting from Norfolk or steel reinforcements from Neath. So far, thousands of companies across the UK have taken advantage of the London 2012 CompeteFor service, which not only provides businesses with the information they need to bid for 2012-related contracts but offers them dedicated business support that can help them to win.
The Games are not just benefiting businesses; they are also making a direct investment in people. First, London 2012 is creating jobs. Since the start of 2009, the number of workers on the Olympic park and village sites has more than doubled to nearly 7,500. More than half the current Olympic park workforce are from London, and one in five are from the Olympic host boroughs. Secondly, the Games are helping to change the face of the construction workforce. Programmes such as Personal Best are drawing in the hard to reach or previously unemployed, while the Women into Construction project has helped to bring the numbers of women working on site to more than double the national average. Thirdly, London 2012 is helping people to acquire the skills and expertise that they need to stay in work. A total of 2,250 traineeships, apprenticeships and work placements will be available on the site over the course of the build, while three dedicated east London training centres will offer as many as 20,000 places over the next five years. With courses designed to furnish the workforce with the skills that will be in demand in the years ahead, it is an opportunity to ensure that our training systems anticipate the needs of future employers. London 2012 therefore represents an investment in skills that will help the construction industry to deliver other major infrastructure projects of national significance such as the £16 billion Crossrail scheme, which is the largest civil construction project in Europe and one that is set to enhance London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent when it opens in 2017.
The development of the Olympic park is not only providing opportunities now but will provide the basis for a sustainable and prosperous community after the Games have come and gone. Indeed, 75p of every £1 that the Olympic Development Authority spends on the Olympic park goes towards the regeneration of an area that includes four of the 10 most deprived boroughs in the UK. London 2012 is aiming to achieve 30 years of development in less than five years.
The Olympic Park Legacy Company, which is chaired by my noble friend Lady Ford—I am sorry that she cannot take part in our debate this evening—will make our vision for east London a reality by developing and implementing plans for the long-term future of the park after the 2012 Games. The park will deliver five world-class sporting facilities, over 15,000 new homes, more than 150,000 square metres of high- quality employment space and 10,000 new jobs, all surrounding over 100 hectares of new parkland.
And the benefits will not be confined to London. There is a clear cross-government commitment to delivering a legacy for the whole of the UK, not least by boosting sports participation and getting more people active and healthy. We are using the opportunity of London 2012 to help transform the levels of young people participating in sport, with the goal of making five hours of school sport available each week to the under-16s. Already, the opportunity for five to 16 year-olds to participate in up to five hours of sport per week is in place in over 90 per cent of school sports partnerships, with over 90 per cent of children meeting the initial two-hour target. Overall, London 2012 has the goal of making 2 million adults more active, and that will have a lasting impact long after the Games are held. There have been successes already through initiatives such as the free swimming programme, which resulted in over 10 million more swimming sessions in its first six months–6.9 million by the under-16s.
At the same time, the Cultural Olympiad is also playing a major role in helping to use London 2012 to, in its own words, “inspire a generation”. Launched in September 2008 with an Open Weekend celebration involving around 650 events across the UK, the Cultural Olympiad is a four-year, UK-wide cultural festival aimed at inspiring young people, welcoming the world, and leaving a lasting cultural legacy. And this commitment to “inspire a generation” is not limited to the UK. The International Inspiration programme has now been launched in nine countries worldwide, offering millions of children the opportunity to take part in high-quality sport and other activities. The goal is to extend the programme to up to 20 countries by 2012.
We can therefore see that London 2012 is already creating a legacy, both here and abroad, of better businesses and better jobs, more active citizens and more attractive neighbourhoods. But of course the first challenge is to deliver an Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 that inspires the world. The London organising committee—LOCOG, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Coe, whose speech I look forward to particularly—is leading on the delivery of the Games and is making first-rate progress. In an exceptionally tough economic environment, LOCOG has to date secured 25 domestic sponsors and generated nearly £600 million-worth of sponsorship revenue, about two-thirds of its target of £700 million. In this sense, LOCOG is ahead of any previous organising committee in securing sponsorship for the Games.
Beyond its strong revenue-raising efforts, LOCOG’s practical preparations for the Games are also progressing extremely well. It has secured the services of Sir Ian Johnston, the former chief constable of the British Transport Police, to lead on security planning. Sir Ian’s appointment is an important step in ensuring that we create a safe and secure environment for the Games to be staged. His expertise and vast policing experience, with which I am very familiar and to which I have often paid tribute in debates in your Lordships’ House on the role of the British Transport Police, will be invaluable to LOCOG in preparing the stage for the Games in 2012 and will ensure that the organising committee works seamlessly with the Metropolitan Police Service, the BTP and other police forces across the UK.
The International Olympic Committee remains impressed with LOCOG’s preparations after its recent co-ordination commission visit. Add to that the fact that the build programme continues to be on or ahead of schedule and that our legacy plans are more advanced than those of any other Olympic hosts at this stage, and it is clear that the UK is all set to stage a highly successful Games in 2012.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for allowing me an additional few minutes in return for agreeing to delay this debate, originally tabled in my name before Christmas. Nevertheless, I shall be as swift as possible. I declare an interest as chairman of the British Olympic Association, a director of LOCOG and a member of the Olympic board.
A few years ago when Kate Hoey, a Member of Parliament and the mayor’s Commissioner for Sport, and I co-chaired the independent sports review, we prefaced our 2005 report with the following observation:
“The success in Singapore has raised the bar. The United Kingdom now has less than seven years to develop a world-class sports policy which will form the basis of London 2012’s ultimate legacy—a fitter, healthier, more active nation”.
Today’s debate provides an opportunity to monitor progress and I intend to concentrate my few remarks on the key building blocks of an Olympic sports legacy.
A new policy framework is required—a policy framework to deliver a comprehensive, nationwide network of sporting opportunity. Through this network every man, woman and child must be able to play their chosen sport at their chosen level, and every child should have their sporting talent identified and the opportunity to develop it to its full potential. That requires a nationwide system with clearly accountable delivery mechanisms.
Reacting to increased concern from the sporting community, the Government set up a sporting legacy board, on which I sit. Sadly, since Singapore 2005, it has had only two brief meetings. The Government have also established a further three boards and steering groups to look at aspects of sporting legacy, which brings to 11 the number of government boards designed to develop different aspects of the 2012 legacy. Inevitably, this level of bureaucracy leads to ineffectiveness. In this context, the Government announced in the Pre-Budget Report that they would rationalise up to a third of the DCMS’s arm’s-length bodies. That is commendable, but can the Minister inform the House which sports bodies are to be streamlined under this policy, particularly those relevant to the London 2012 Games?
Given the vital importance of the Minister for Sport working closely with Ministers from health, the Home Office and education, the proposal to create a new Cabinet Office cross-departmental division to co-ordinate initiatives provides a focal point for sport and recreation in government and is commendable. When Kate Hoey and I considered the sporting landscape during the months soon after the historic decision to award the games to London, we concluded that today’s patchwork-quilt policy based on luck and isolated islands of good practice needs to be replaced with a comprehensive system constructed on universal opportunity. Sporting success, as I am sure we will all agree, is systematic and should not, as at present, be left to chance.
In 2005, Tessa Jowell, as the then Secretary of State at the DCMS, rightly described the public sector structure over which she and Richard Caborn presided as “a nightmare”. While a great deal has been achieved by UK Sport to streamline the high-performance delivery mechanisms to our governing bodies, I still believe there is merit in housing the two separate quangos—one covering Olympic sporting excellence in UK Sport; the other mass participation in Sport England—together into one in order to share overheads, further streamline delivery to our governing bodies and, above all, deliver a pathway from participation to excellence. We must ensure that central to the Olympic sports legacy is having a world-class performance system in place that is robust, inspirational, resourced and sustainable; a system which covers the pathway from children, through juniors, through seniors to podium success; a system based on the requirements of volunteers, clubs, governing bodies, coaches and, above all, the athletes.
My second point is that a further key pillar of an Olympic sports legacy is sports infrastructure spend across the United Kingdom. The report of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, was the most important on sport commissioned by the Government. We have an ageing stock of sports facilities. Many were built during the 1970s’ boom in capital investment and are now reaching the end of their economic lives. A Sport England report estimated that it would cost £550 million to bring sports centres owned by local authorities in England alone up to a safe and acceptable standard. The capital cost of maintaining the stock thereafter was estimated at between £144 million and £151 million per annum.
While that analysis concentrated on local authority leisure facilities, the Football Association has calculated that it will cost some £2 billion to bring the stock of local authority playing fields, changing rooms, hot water and showers and pitch drainage up to a reasonable standard. The most important part of an Olympic sports legacy must be a new national sports infrastructure fund to renew the stock of local facilities across the United Kingdom.
What is also a key aspect of this contribution to an Olympic sports legacy is the requirement for government to introduce a much-needed statutory requirement to ensure that there is adequate provision of sports facilities for sport and recreation in England and Wales. In Scotland, where such legislation exists, per capita funding for sport during the last decade was £46; in England, where local authorities are under no such obligation and are struggling to meet there statutory requirements, it is no surprise that the per capita spend was £19. Sports infrastructure spend is critical to an Olympic sports legacy. That is the catalyst to provide a sea change in opportunity for young people, inspired by the Games. This is even more important as we enter a new decade with nearly 1 million children who do not receive the basic two hours of sport and PE each week. The prospect of an afternoon of sport every week—say, a Wednesday afternoon—linked to governing bodies, clubs and local authority programmes, should be introduced throughout the United Kingdom and act as the catalyst for inter-school competitions and club membership throughout the country. This would be a substantial building block in the delivery of an Olympic sports legacy.
For my part, I shall pursue the proposals outlined in a government report written by my noble friend Lord Coe and myself some 23 years ago, in which we said that we looked for greater uniformity of purpose and approach internationally in the fight against drug abuse. As a result, I shall introduce a Bill into your Lordships' House shortly. I should add, as a response to the comments made to the British Athletes Commission spokesman yesterday, that absolutely no proposal exists to allow the police to undertake random searches in the Olympic village or elsewhere. Under the legislation that I am drafting, the police would have to have reasonable grounds for believing that an offence had been committed under the proposed Act and obtain a warrant issued by a court before any search could be undertaken. In this context, random police searches would be wholly unacceptable to me.
Finally, with just over 1,000 days to go and reinforcing the non-political approach that should always characterise sport, I led the British Olympic Association in strong support of Gordon Brown’s sports manifesto when the then Chancellor announced at Marlborough House in London on 25 October 2006 the following measures: to offer children four hours of school sport a week by 2010; to lead the world in 2012 as one of the fittest and most sporting of nations; to offer afterschool sports and links to a wide range of local sports clubs; to have every school in the country playing competitively in local leagues; to increase sports volunteering in schools and communities by 1 million; to provide every potential young sports star with extra support to help them to train and develop; and to ensure that every school should have access to playing fields and better sports facilities.
Sadly, I cannot report to your Lordships' House that any of these measures have been delivered. We could start with a national volunteering strategy, which is absolutely central to an Olympic sports legacy. The hard work will start now—otherwise, the Olympic sports legacy from the Games will be housed solely, necessarily and exclusively inside the Olympic park and its satellite venues, which are being so admirably delivered by my noble friend Lord Coe, John Armitt, the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, and the first-rate private-sector-led teams. Now is the time to build on a coherent, well designed, fully financed and implemented nationwide Olympic sports legacy programme, with all 2012 stakeholders working together to support and contribute to its success.
My Lords, first, I thank the Government for the opportunity for this debate and I thank my noble friend Lord Moynihan for his apposite remarks this evening and for so publicly carbon-dating me. I declare an interest as the chair of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games—or LOCOG, as we have become known—and as a member of the Olympic board.
2010 will see the pace and intensity of our preparations increase as people across the UK become involved in the Games, their delivery, inspiration and participation. In just 133 weeks we will stage 26 simultaneous world championships during those Games, before working day and night for a fortnight to reconfigure venues and transform London into a Paralympic city, and then to do pretty much the same with 20 Paralympic world championships. The scale and complexity of this project is unique, and I am pleased to report that our progress and momentum are strong.
As I have noted before, LOCOG raises its staging budget almost entirely from the private sector, save for a small contribution to assist Paralympic transition. Despite the economic climate, we have raised, as the Minister remarked, nearly £600 million of our £700 million target for domestic sponsorship. We now enjoy partnerships with 25 world-class companies, with more to come. This has enabled the recruitment of a world-class team, as the organisation’s workforce looks to grow from 70 in 2005, when I first reported to your Lordships’ House, to over 2,000 at Games time. We have also spent time carefully developing our operational plans in over 50 venues across London and the UK. Next month we look forward to adding knowledge and understanding at the Winter Games in Vancouver. I take this opportunity to wish my noble friend Lord Moynihan the successful stewardship of a successful Team GB and a successful Paralympic campaign a few weeks later.
The story of London 2012 will be the story of people touched, inspired and delivering the Games. Already we have made an impact. Over 35 Olympic and Paralympic teams have agreed to hold pre-Games training camps in Britain, including Usain Bolt’s Jamaica in Birmingham and the Australian Paralympic team in Cardiff and Newport. Over 800 activities, sporting and cultural, formed our open weekend in July. Our Inspire mark, the first from a host city for non-commercial activities, has been awarded to over 260 projects, 60 of them in sport, and 14,000 schools in the UK, nearly half the total, now use London’s 2012 Get Set education programmes.
I have little doubt that these programmes explain why over 80 per cent of the British public now say that we will stage a successful Games in 2012—but we cannot take our foot off the pedal. We know that the economic climate remains tough. Despite that, LOCOG’s commercial team has punched through the downturn, allowing us to move with clarity, certainty and, crucially, independence through the exacting phases of this project.
Bringing our sponsors to the table early—earlier than previous host cities—has also helped us to harness the creativity and market penetration of these companies in activating their sponsorships, which in turn helps us to meet the legacy commitments that we made in Singapore: the Lloyds Banking Group with the national school sport week, Local Heroes, the construction of adiZones for partnerships in the inner city, EDF with its sustainability campaigns, BP with its work within the Cultural Olympiad, British Telecom for its commitment to the Paralympics, and British Airways with its Great Britons campaign. I could go on.
Security, of course, remains central. We continue planning for our in-venue responsibilities while working in partnership with the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police and other agencies that lead on London and the UK’s wider security at the Games, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, commented. Sir Ian Johnston has recently been appointed as director of security at LOCOG. He brings a wealth of experience to that post, and is known to many in your Lordships’ House.
Over the coming year we will be busy as we lock down our venue plans, submit 117 planning applications and finalise sports competition schedules, test events and our ticketing strategy. We will go to the market with £700 million-worth of business. We will drive the Cultural Olympiad and the International Inspiration programmes. We will start recruiting up to 70,000 volunteers and introduce a new face to the Games—the mascot.
I recognise that, at best, this can be only a quick romp across the landscape, but I hope that I have demonstrated both delivery and commitment. While recognising the leading role of legacy played by London and national Governments and the Olympic Park Legacy Company chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, let me restate LOCOG’s endeavours as a legacy enabler with key support from our commercial partners.
I thank your Lordships' House once again for the benefit of its advice, its wise counsel, its scrutiny and, at all times, its support for all our teams over the past four and a half years. I look forward to its continuance through to 2012.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the debate tonight. The new year feels a particularly appropriate time to look ahead with optimism towards the Olympic Games and the Olympic legacy. I declare an interest as a member of the Olympic Delivery Authority board.
My first reason for optimism is the broadly strong working relationships that exist around 2012. In previous Games, one would rarely have seen such strong working relationships between the development authorities, Games organisers and legacy authorities. Linked to that is strong, cross-party commitment, strong partnerships with business and local government and high and sustained public support.
My second reason for optimism is that engineering, design, manufacturing and construction in Britain have been and are stepping up to the mark and have a great opportunity to showcase to the world, and we are delivering on time and on budget. I am not normally in the habit of quoting from the Daily Mail, which has not necessarily been my favourite publication over the past decade or so, but I was struck by something Max Hastings said at the turn of the year. He said:
“We must use the opportunity to showcase Britain, to justify the vast expenditure of public money by demonstrating that this country can do something really big really well”.
Today, notwithstanding the huge challenges that lie ahead, I want to draw attention to the fact that we are indeed doing very well. I know that others will speak about the Games and the sporting legacy, the regeneration legacy and the importance of the Games to London, so I will focus on the construction project.
The ODA inherited a complex site criss-crossed with rail, water and electricity pylons—one that had suffered from generational neglect. We are responsible for delivering a construction programme twice the size of Terminal 5 in half the time; arguably the biggest construction project programme in Europe. It is fair to say that there was widespread cynicism about our ability within the UK to deliver that. So far, I am pleased to say, that has proved unfounded. Indeed, the challenges of the project—its size and timescale—have galvanised UK industry into seeking innovative and ambitious solutions.
Some of the less publicised areas of the work are worthy of attention. I want to talk briefly about three. The first major project was power lines—not the most exciting but absolutely essential. The site had 52 huge overhead pylons and 130 kilometres of overhead wire. In order to unlock the landscape, we had to construct two six-kilometre tunnels underneath the entire site enabling all the power for the Games and the legacy developments to be carried underneath. In all, 1,300 tonnes of steel were removed and recycled and an electricity substation is now completed and operational. The han