House of Lords
Tuesday, 19 October 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.
My Lords, allegations of corruption in the game of cricket are a matter for the national and international cricket authorities to investigate, police, and regulate as they deem appropriate. However, we stand ready to help those bodies to combat any threat of corruption where necessary. The Minister for Sport and the Olympics recently met the president of the International Cricket Council and also raised this as an issue at the meeting of Commonwealth sports Ministers in Delhi.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that response. I understand that the International Cricket Council is much better equipped than it used to be thanks, if I may say so, to the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who I am glad to see is in his place. Nevertheless, I understand that the sports Minister in Delhi at the time of the Commonwealth games did not put forward proposals that the noble Lord has in mind because he was advised by officials that that would threaten a Pakistani walkout. What proposals did the sports Minister wish to put forward?
My Lords, I will look with great care. I have a serious brief here but I do not see a list of proposals that were available to be put at that meeting. If they are available, I will endeavour to get them and let the noble Lord know what they are.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that until I retired earlier this year I was chairman of the International Cricket Council anti-corruption unit. Does the Minister agree that the ICC has kept corruption at bay for the past 10 years by having in place the strongest code of conduct for players and officials of any sporting body, and an education programme that all players must go through before they can play international cricket? Does he further agree that, against that background, any player who chooses to betray his country, his teammates and the cricket-loving public, if found guilty of criminal or cricket disciplinary offences, deserves the strongest condemnation and punishment, and that nothing less is necessary if the spirit of cricket is to prevail?
I agree that what I have seen set out about the anti-corruption and security unit of the International Cricket Council is pretty robust. In the end, it is up to the cricket authorities to decide what should happen if allegations are proved. I have made my inquiries as to what it amounts to. At the moment, there is a player education programme run by the ICC. It is one day long, and it covers the current rules, the penalties, the processes involved and how corrupters may seek to groom from an early age. It is letting folk know what is involved. After last week's board meeting, it has been decided that that programme is to be further enhanced.
My Lords, will the Government draw attention to the use that can be made of the legalised betting industry for spotting odds and fluctuations? That information should be passed on from this country to other nations, even when they do not have legalised betting.
My Lords, it is incredible how huge an industry sports gambling is. In this country, we have the Gambling Commission, but it has only been going for three years. There is a limit to what we can do in other places, although it is right that in both the gambling and sports authorities there is international co-operation. Clearly, word can be passed. There are many countries where gambling is not legalised—indeed, it is illegal—and yet takes place on a broad basis. It is very difficult to deal in such matters.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party inquiry into the effects of betting on sport, which reported in 2005, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Condon, was such a powerful and convincing witness. Is the Minister satisfied with the progress which the Gambling Commission’s new unit on sports betting intelligence is making, and is it receiving sufficient co-operation from the betting industry and from sports governing bodies?
My Lords, all I can say is that the Government are very much behind that new work continuing. I am not in a position to say, because I do not know, whether the unit is getting all the co-operation that it should, but I have no evidence that it is not.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a terrible tragedy when a promising young cricketer has his career ruined by being involved in such practices as corruption? Can he say more about what is being done to help young players to realise what are the penalties for corruption and how it goes totally against the spirit of the game?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that. She is quite right, it is not quite cricket. Although the international cricket authorities are busy doing that work, so is the English cricket board, but it has only just got into this. The ICC is taking the lead, but the English cricket board has a zero tolerance approach to corruption and is fully supporting the ICC's anti-corruption unit. The ECB has recently agreed to enhance its work in this field by establishing an ECB anti-corruption commission for education, security and surveillance. Its work includes extensive education programmes for younger players via the county academies and the development of an online interactive training module which will be ready before the start of the next season. So it is taking the issue seriously and getting on with it for the next cricket season for youngsters.
Perhaps I may revert to what the Minister was saying earlier about gambling, which is clearly at the heart of the problem. The Government—all of us—have to acknowledge that. The Government could do two things. First, there is a loophole in the Gambling Act which allows online operators to move offshore and therefore avoid scrutiny. That is a very important part. Secondly, will the Government regulate spread betting more carefully? Spread betting is another way in which the problem is being increased as it makes it difficult to hold people to account in the way that they used to be.
My Lords, I am the last person in the world to know much about gambling but I take very seriously what the noble Baroness has said, and I will take this matter back to the ministry. The DCMS is there for sport, but it is also there as the regulator of last resort in gambling. I will take those important points back to the Government.
Energy: Renewables Directive
My Lords, ensuring that we deliver 15 per cent renewable energy will bring benefits to the UK. By 2020, it will reduce the UK’s carbon emissions, contribute to our future energy security and create outstanding opportunities for the UK economy, with the potential to create 500,000 jobs. There will be other impacts, which will in some cases bring higher consumer energy bills. We are committed to helping households in fuel poverty and we will continue to look at ways in which we can make further progress towards meeting our fuel poverty goals.
I thank the Minister for his considered reply and the sagacity that he is bringing to his department. Does he not agree that, nevertheless, the Government have signed up to an EU carbon saving scheme that has very damaging unintended consequences, which are already contributing to the 4.6 million households now in fuel poverty and which will create ever rising unemployment as our fuel-intensive industries are taxed into uncompetitiveness? Even the Guardian calls the wind power feed-in tariff crazy. As energy is the lifeblood of our society, could not our new Government look again to find better ways of achieving the same ends—but by a less costly, more rational and possibly slower route than blindly following a wholly inappropriate EU commitment, which, if fully implemented, will bring immense harm to our economy? That is no joke.
I have been called many things, but “sagacious” is a new one for me; I am extremely indebted to my noble friend for calling me that. Whether we like it or not, we are legally bound by the EU renewable energy target of 15 per cent and this Government are not interested in breaking the law. Fuel poverty has increased because fuel prices went up by 80 per cent between 2004 and 2008. Yes, increasing our renewables will increase electricity bill prices by about £10 per year, but that is a small price to pay when you consider that fuel prices have gone up by 80 per cent.
If the Government are so keen on combating climate change and enhancing the use of renewable energy in this country, as well as trying to moderate fuel bills for people throughout the country, why the devil have they today announced the cancellation of the Severn barrage, which could renewably provide at least 5 per cent of the country’s energy needs? It is the stupidest thing that this Government have done, although I am certain that there will be more to come.
That criticism is a bit rich coming from the noble Lord’s Benches. The fact is that the Severn estuary barrage would cost £30 billion. As I think we were told when we took over government, there is no money. The barrage does not represent good value for taxpayers; we have made this judgment based on what is good value for taxpayers.
My Lords, given that in four years’ time it is projected that we will import 80 per cent of our gas to fuel our houses and our power stations, would not the development of anaerobic digestion be a major resource? It could also bring about 20,000 jobs. I must declare an interest as chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association—and I challenge any noble Lord to say that after a few drinks.
My noble friend’s expertise is well known and we welcome his commitment to anaerobic digestion, which is fundamental to our reaching our renewables targets by 2020. We anticipate that 3 to 7 per cent will come from anaerobic digestion, with the noble Lord’s strong support and the use of sewage to get there, and we welcome his comments.
My Lords, yesterday’s announcement by the Secretary of State on energy policy was a great disappointment to those of us who support and want to invest in renewable energy. Not only is the Severn barrage not backed, as we have heard, but there were only passing references to carbon capture and storage and to wind power and there was no reference to government commitment, support or funding. We would have appreciated and welcomed a Statement to this House also. I appreciate that there is another day before the final CSR announcement, but will the Minister confirm whether his department has won the battle with the Treasury and that the green investment bank will be only for low-carbon projects and not for general infrastructure? Given the Prime Minister’s comment that this is the greenest Government ever, will the Minister confirm that there will be no reduction in the amounts confirmed by the last Labour Government?
I welcome the noble Baroness to her new role, although I am not sure that I welcome the question, and I look forward to working constructively with her. As I have said many times in this House, the delivery of energy supply goes across many Governments and has a long period of development. Decisions that we make now will have fundamental relevance to Governments in five, 10 and 15 years. As for spending, I am sure that the noble Baroness will understand that I will not commit anything until after tomorrow, when I will be able to bring joyous news, I hope, on the subject.
That is not really a matter for my department; it is a matter for the Treasury. There is no doubt that, under the last Government, fuel poverty went up from 4 million to 4.6 million households and, as I said, fuel prices went up by 80 per cent. This is a serious problem, which brings hardship to a lot of homes. We have a very significant problem reversing that trend.
My Lords, the steps we are taking in this area include guidance via a commissioning toolkit to support organisations on effective falls and fracture prevention and management, NICE’s published guidance on osteoporosis, falls and fractures—NICE is also working on clinical guidelines for hip fractures for publication in spring 2011—and a best-practice tariff which offers financial incentives to hospitals meeting quality standards for hip fracture patients, including a fracture prevention assessment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comprehensive reply and welcome the progress that has been made. We must bear in mind that last year alone, some 65,000 people were admitted to hospitals for hip fractures, which represents an increase of 17 per cent on the previous decade and is one of the highest figures in Europe. Will my noble friend ensure that the outcomes framework currently under review, which concentrates mostly on hip fractures, also includes indicators to reduce all fragility fractures? That would ensure that the NHS puts a comprehensive fracture preventive service in place.
My Lords, my noble friend is right to say that the outcomes framework will be central to assessing the performance of the NHS and driving up quality generally. The framework is still in development, and my department is currently looking at the responses to the recent consultation and carrying out the necessary analysis to ensure that it is as balanced and robust as possible. Having said that, the consultation document contained a number of proposed indicators that relate to falls and fragility fractures which are candidates for inclusion in the framework, although the department cannot take any final decisions until we have digested all the consultation responses.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that drugs are now available that can halt the progression of osteoporosis? Is he satisfied that there are sufficient facilities in hospitals across the country to carry out bone density measurements, from which the position can be assessed at an early stage to allow those at risk to be given appropriate treatment?
My Lords, the NHS in England has invested in additional diagnostic capacity over recent years, including the provision of more DEXA scanners, which are bone density scanners. The most recent data I have show that only 145 people in England waited for more than six weeks for a bone scan, and of those only seven had been waiting for over 13 weeks. That does not suggest that there is undercapacity. However, the noble Lord is right to say that several treatments are available, along with many messages put out by the department to promote a healthy lifestyle in order to prevent fractures.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of excellent leaflets containing information about the prevention of osteoporosis are available? What initiatives are in place to encourage the distribution of these leaflets in libraries, supermarkets, gyms and so on to enable women and men to get the information they need?
My Lords, information is produced by the National Health Service on the risk of fragility fracture and, indeed, on how to prevent it. A number of good and authoritative sources of information exist on this topic, not simply from the NHS, but I would just say that information on osteoporosis is available on the NHS Choices website, which of course is accessible on computers, including those in libraries.
My Lords, if the normal communal incidence of osteoporosis were to be applied to your Lordships House, it is likely that half or even more than half of its membership would be suffering from it, even if they were not aware of any symptoms. That tells us what a common disorder we are dealing with. Does my noble friend agree that it is important to raise public awareness not just of diagnosis and treatment, but of how lifestyle changes to diet, smoking behaviour and alcohol consumption are extremely important in making sure that these adverse consequences do not arise?
My noble friend is right. The job of the NHS in its public health role is to provide information about healthy lifestyle choices. NHS Direct does this at the moment, and in the future we will be looking to the new national public health service to maintain the provision of high quality and authoritative health advice. Moreover, as my noble friend says, that advice includes information about the value of a diet rich in vitamin D from oily fish, liver, cereals, eggs and so forth, as well as from safe exposure—I emphasise the word “safe”—to natural daylight.
My Lords, it is well known that if an elderly or frail person living at home has a fall which results in a hip fracture is monitored, a great deal of future pain, distress and huge expense to the NHS can be avoided. Does the Minister agree that installing a fracture liaison service in every health area would reduce this serious situation and that the Government ought to make public that aim?
The noble Baroness is correct: fracture services have produced some positive results where they have been used in various parts of the country. I can best answer her question in two brief ways. While decisions about the provision of particular services are best taken locally, it will be the outcomes framework, which I have mentioned, and the incentives that go with it, that will determine the extent to which the NHS locally responds to needs related to this area. Funding for the NHS is protected and will increase above inflation every year of this Parliament. In this difficult climate, that demonstrates the Government’s determination to provide the best outcomes from services, including falls and fractures services.
Non-departmental Public Bodies
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many jobs will be lost and how much money will be saved in the next comprehensive spending review period as a result of the decisions on the future of non-departmental public bodies announced on 14 October.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, the reforms to public bodies are about increasing the accountability of public services; they are not driven by savings. The primary vehicle for delivering savings will be the spending review. However, these proposals will help to support the Government’s commitment to reduce the costs of central Whitehall and its public bodies by at least one third. For each of the reforms, individual organisations will be working with their staff to make sensible plans as to when and how the workforce will need to change.
My Lords, the Minister said that this is about accountability, and he is accountable to the House to give us as much information as he can. Is he saying that the Government have carried out no calculations on job losses and the costs involved, or is he saying that he will not tell us what those calculations are until tomorrow with the CSR? I refer to the handbook, which states:
“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament … refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.
How can the Minister justify not giving detailed information? Is he saying that it is not in the public interest to do so, or is it simply not in the Government’s interest to do so?
Perhaps if I may say so, I do not think that I need reminding by the noble Baroness of my responsibility at the Dispatch Box. It is very important not to conflate the savings that will come from the public bodies review with the spending review which will be announced tomorrow. The savings from the public bodies review are being made within departments. The departments will make announcements about the detailed savings that they will be making consequent upon the spending review tomorrow.
It is important for noble Lords to bear in mind that this is a complex process. The decision-making process has been decided; now we have the implementation process. Implementation involves people’s lives and jobs and it would be recklessly irresponsible to anticipate how government departments will handle individual public bodies within their remits. That is why I am not in a position to give any further details than I have already given.
My Lords, will my noble friend advise some opposition Peers to guard against the danger of becoming injured by the consumption of their own verbosity and indignation, and remind them that it is overwhelmingly in the public interest that, when an announcement on the spending review is due tomorrow, it should not come out in dribs and drabs beforehand?
I know, my Lords, that Labour Peers used to practise that game on the sofas in among the spin doctors, but it is overwhelmingly in the public interest that the spending review comes out first and that the details of it are then announced so that we can see how they fit into it.
My Lords, the Minister says that the reduction in number of public bodies is not driven by savings, but can I refer him to the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office on 25 May which said that the savings resulting from the reduction in number of public bodies were anticipated to be £1 billion year on year? Will he admit to the House that the Government have found that enormous costs are associated with getting rid of the bodies? Why will he not answer the Question asked by my noble friend; namely, what is the actual figure for savings that the Government have come to?
I was asked a Question about the next spending review period, not about year on year. That is an important point to bear in mind. The Government have already announced that they will make £6 billion-worth of savings across departments. This has been outlined for the next spending review period. We will hear how it is worked out in the spending review tomorrow, when the Government will announce the tough decisions which need to be made. Reducing spending on quangos will contribute both to this year’s savings as well as those that will be announced tomorrow.
My Lords, I recognise that there are bound to be significant costs in implementing these attempts to tackle the democratic deficit, including dealing with redundancies, retraining and some further recruitment. However, will my noble friend enable Parliament to have rather more detailed scrutiny of these matters and in particular arrange for pre-legislative scrutiny of the public bodies Bill?
I thank my noble friend for that question because it enables me to say that the public bodies Bill is essentially an enabling Bill to provide a legislative framework to back up the decisions taken by the Government. I can assure noble Lords that it is likely to be introduced fairly soon. Meanwhile, as I have said, all decisions made by departments regarding their spending will be the subject of announcements which will be laid before the House.
Arrangement of Business
Leeds City Council Bill
My Lords, these four private Bills were all deposited in Parliament together in November 2007. The reason why it has taken so long to get to where we are today is the high level of opposition that they attracted in the Commons. Together with two similar Bills promoted by Bournemouth and Manchester, well over 24 hours have been spent in debating these Bills on the Floor of the House of Commons. They were opposed by a very small number of Members at every stage, including procedural stages such as carry over, but on each vote—and there have been many votes—there was an overwhelming majority in favour of the Bills.
The Bills are very similar to each other, but not identical. They all deal, in the main, with one general issue—that of street trading. Here I declare my special interest as a former member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Markets, and currently vice-chairman, and also as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
The main area of contention in the other place was pedlars, and it is that subject that is also of concern today. All four Bills deal with this issue, and it is not the first time that a subject has been raised on a private Bill in this House. The provisions can be found in Clause 5 of each Bill.
Street trading is controlled by local authorities outside London under Schedule 4 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. Councils can designate streets in their area as prohibited streets, licence streets or consent streets, or can leave streets unregulated. In prohibited streets, no street trading is allowed at all, and in licence and consent streets it is allowed only with the authority of a licence or consent granted by the council. There are exceptions to the rule; one of them is for trading as a pedlar under the authority of a pedlar’s certificate. A pedlar so trading can trade anywhere, even in a prohibited street. A number of councils have promoted private legislation to restrict that pedlar’s exemption so that it applies only to pedlars who trade from house to house. They include all the London borough councils, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Medway and Maidstone. The Bournemouth and Manchester Acts finally reached the statute book earlier this year. Similar legislation applies in Northern Ireland.
There are a number of reasons for the promotion of the pedlars clause. One key reason is the difficulty in enforcing the street trading legislation. A pedlar should travel as he trades, but case law has established that pedlars should be able to stay stationary for short periods of time before moving on. One case suggested that 15 minutes should be allowed. That requires constant monitoring of pedlars by council enforcement officers. There is nothing to prevent the pedlar moving on to a different location in the same street. Case law has also decided that pedlars should be able to use a barrow or stall. The councils argue that this has resulted in the abuse of pedlars’ certificates in their areas, with pedlars effectively acting as street traders. With the councils unable to control where pedlars trade, this can result in trading in inappropriate locations; for example, in areas where the highway is already congested, or in town and city centre areas where the council has invested considerable resources to provide a more attractive environment. In some cases, this has been achieved in part by making a street a prohibited street but, as I have mentioned, that does not enable councils to prevent pedlars trading on those streets.
Another issue is that councils do not issue pedlars’ certificates. Certificates are issued by the local police force where the pedlar actually lives, which is unlikely to be where he trades. The fact that pedlars are, by their nature, here today and gone tomorrow means that the councils are much less likely to be able to deal with complaints about the quality of goods sold than where they are sold by a trader licensed by them and whose name and address they know.
One of the main issues arising during the course of the promotion of these Bills is what to do with those who are known by some as “genuine pedlars”. Broadly speaking, those are pedlars who are said to obey the rules by moving frequently and who either do not use a barrow or stall or, indeed, might use a small one. On this subject, in order to try to meet the concerns of Mr Chope, the honourable Member for Christchurch in another place, two of the four councils, Leeds and Reading, put forward amendments to their Bills in committee. As a result, their Bills are now different from the other two in that they would allow pedlars to trade so long as they carried all of their goods on their person—in other words, no trolleys or stalls. Unfortunately, while that might have satisfied the honourable Member for Christchurch, it has not satisfied the pedlars, and petitions have been deposited against both the Leeds and Reading Bills, so they will have to be referred to a Select Committee.
Nottingham and Canterbury have not made the same concessions as Leeds and Reading, and that is because they have different problems. Both cities have narrow and congested streets where problems would be, and are, caused by any type of trading activity. Canterbury is a particular case in point. Around the cathedral, the streets retain their medieval narrowness and are very congested indeed, particularly during the summer tourist season. The city council believes that a concession of the type given by Leeds and Reading would amount to a failure to achieve the Bill’s purpose in Canterbury’s particular circumstances.
That brings me in turn to another point which I am sure will be raised today: the desirability of different councils coming forward separately to create a patchwork of legislation across the country. The four councils could not agree more. They think that there should be a change and that it should be on a national basis, but the problems they face are here and now. I am told that when Westminster City Council, which was the first to promote this type of legislation, deposited its Bill in 1996, the Home Office objected on the grounds of prematurity, saying that a review of the pedlars legislation was imminent. Fourteen years on, the previous Government undertook a consultation exercise on the law—it closed in February—but there are no guarantees that legislation will come forward in the near future.
There has been some concern about the number of councils lining up to promote similar legislation. No similar Bills have been deposited since these in 2007, and as far as the councils and their parliamentary agents are aware, there is no queue of authorities waiting. This indicates, as the Minister said when he spoke at Third Reading on the Manchester and Bournemouth Bills, that there are probably only a limited number of councils that have experienced the problems that these Bills seek to address and which are prepared to go to the time, trouble and expense of promoting their own legislation.
Having dwelt on pedlars, I turn to the other provisions in the Bill. All the Bills contain new enforcement powers relating to unlicensed street trading. Following precedent in London, council enforcement officers and police constables would be able to seize items in suspected unlicensed street trading for use as evidence or for forfeiture by the courts on conviction. This would not apply just to the pedlars but to any person who trades unlawfully. There is provision for compensation to be paid in the case of unlawful seizure.
All four Bills would also enable the councils and police constables to serve fixed-penalty notices for street-trading offences, and they would provide an offence of giving a false name and address. In the cases of Reading and Canterbury, powers are also given to police community support officers to serve fixed-penalty notices. All four Bills would extend the scope of the street-trading regime to the provision of services on the street. The type of activity that is intended to be covered includes hair braiding, henna tattooing and the like.
In the cases of Nottingham and Reading, the definition of “street trading” is also extended to the buying of tickets for gain or reward. This is intended to deal with the commercial ticket tout, which is a particular problem for Reading. When the annual Reading festival is on, selling tickets on the street as opposed to buying is already caught by the street trading legislation, and it is important to note that it is already a separate offence to tout for football tickets.
The only other way in which the Bills differ from each other is that Reading and Canterbury both include a clause that would regulate touting in their area. This is not the same as ticket touting, as some Members in the other place mistakenly thought, but is intended to cover touting for business in the streets, which can be a nuisance. I should also mention that the honourable Member for Canterbury South, Julian Brazier, gave the honourable Member for Christchurch an assurance at Third Reading that Canterbury would seek leave at the appropriate stage in this House for its tout clause to be omitted from the Bill, and that this will be done in Committee.
In conclusion, these promoters have identified, and are seeking to deal with, real issues in the Bills. Private Bills do not come before your Lordships that often, and it is a measure of how significant a step it is for any promoter to take, particularly a local authority, in these times of financial constraints. All four Bills will no doubt be subject to rigorous detailed scrutiny in Committee, and I urge your Lordships’ House to support them on Second Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, for explaining the Bills so clearly. The House now knows exactly what they are about. I have two problems with them: first, as he said, this is the back end of a series of Bills on the same subject. I do not think that the Private Bill process was ever designed to be a substitute for public legislation in this way. The local authorities concerned, as well as Parliament, are spending a great deal of time and money to do something which should be done by the Government. As the noble Lord said, the Government completed a consultation in February this year. They are now in a position to say that there is no need for legislation such as this and that we should see an end to these Bills or that there is a need, in which case we should have it and there would be no need for these Bills. One way or another, it is time for the Government to come off the fence and take a decision.
The second reason why I have problems with the Bills is that, as the noble Lord said, they restrict the right of people to make a living by selling out in the open. That is a problem at all times, but especially now, in these difficult economic times. We have to encourage people to get out there and make a living, to start trying to build a business, and selling is one of the crucial ways of doing that. We do not want a system that puts barriers in the way of people starting out. If you want to start trading from a shop, you will need many tens of thousands of pounds. If you want to start trading from a barrow in the street, you may have to queue up for years to get a limited permit from the council, or you may have to pay a rent and a premium to get one. For a young person who has an idea, who thinks that they can sell something better than other people and who has a product that they want to get out into the market, the only way that they can start is to get a pedlar’s licence and get out there and sell. It is a wonderful and ancient freedom that is of great utility to us.
I will admit to being an “Apprentice” addict. Any of your Lordships who share that addiction will see how dear this issue is to the noble Lord, Lord Sugar. He is always sending his apprentices out to sell sausages door to door in Notting Hill; whether he gets a pedlar’s licence for that, I do not know, but he should. It is absolutely fundamental to that side of business.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, says, you quite rapidly find problems regarding location. The best place to sell is where the money is. Places with money tend to like being tidy and well organised. Westminster is the worst of these. When do you come across someone selling in the street in Westminster? How many street markets have been founded in Westminster in recent years? None. Westminster does its best to sweep the streets clean of this kind of thing. I do not accuse Canterbury or any of the other councils involved in these Bills of doing that; none the less, they are regulating from the point of view of the rich and the well-off to exclude those who are trying to make a start on the ladder.
To me, this is a national issue. It is a difficult balancing act; one does not want, as in the case of Canterbury, 20 or 30 pashmina trolleys up and down the high street. However, you do want to encourage people to get out there and start a business. There has to be a level playing field. Councils which look after rich, well-to-do areas have a duty to the rest of the country to provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs, and we have a duty to limit the disadvantage that that causes to their residents. This is a difficult balancing act and I hope that the Government will turn their mind to it so that in the next year or so there will be a clause to deal with this matter and allow us to settle it. It seems to me a fundamental part of the concept of the big society that each of us should be prepared to suffer inconvenience to give advantage to other people. This is merely an illustration of that.
I have put down an instruction to the committee. This is not something that will cause the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, any concern; I merely wish to raise, on the Order Paper, the importance that I attach to these Bills. As he said, obligations were undertaken in the Commons that I hope we will see fulfilled. There is the matter of consistency across the Bills, which I hope will concern the committee. I hope the committee will also turn its mind to whether the particular restrictions are justified. I am sure that the pedlars will argue that strongly when they come before the committee. Above all, I very much hope that the committee will address itself to the inappropriateness of the Government requiring councils to use this route to establish legislation for which they find they have a need.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, for introducing these Bills and for explaining them to your Lordships’ House so carefully and thoroughly. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for the points that he made. I think we all agree that we should not be where we are today and that it is time that we looked at this. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that I do not think anything in these Bills will greatly inhibit the apprentices of the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, selling sausages in Notting Hill, not least because Notting Hill is already covered by the provisions of the various London Local Authorities Acts, which some years ago covered similar ground to that now introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Bilston.
I declare an interest; I am still a councillor in a London borough. Indeed, among my responsibilities on the council’s executive is the subject of licensing. This covers street trading and even pedlars. For some years we had a town centre manager who talked to me about little other than the Pedlars Act 1871. I learnt the definition of a pedlar many years ago. Should there be anybody in your Lordships’ House who is not sure exactly what a pedlar is, the definition in the 1871 Act, which I think still applies, says:
“The term ‘pedlar’ means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other men’s houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares, or merchandise, or procuring orders for goods, wares, or merchandise immediately to be delivered, or selling or offering for sale his skill in handicraft”.
If ever there was a reason for updating legislation, I think I have just read it to your Lordships. That it has survived so long—albeit with some subsequent case law to bring it into the 20th century, if not the 21st—is quite remarkable.
As I said, the London Local Authorities Act, which was the Bill promoted by Westminster on behalf of all the London boroughs to which the noble Lord, Lord Bilston, referred, has largely removed this problem in London. However, it is clearly still a major problem in several cities, including those covered by the Bills before us today. No local authority at any time, still less in the current climate, would undertake the enormous amount of work and the enormous cost of promoting private legislation unless it felt it had a real and significant problem to deal with. I looked at some of the lengthy debates on the Bill in the other place. Even the honourable Member for Christchurch, Mr Chope, was convinced when he saw photographs of the problems in, I think, Leeds. It was certainly one of these cities. If Mr Chope was convinced, I think we would all be convinced even more readily.
We are here because this is where we are, and the Bills are before us today for reasons very ably explained to us by the noble Lord, Lord Bilston. I hope that your Lordships will give them a Second Reading, but I hope still more that the Minister will tell us that these will be the last such Bills that have to come before the House, that this Government, like previous Governments, have recognised the need for legislation, and that a government Bill will be introduced to enable us properly to debate and consider the very real and important issues to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred. Indeed, they are important issues. There may not be very many pedlars left—however they are defined—but there are some and it is important that we consider these issues. However, they need to be considered in a proper legislative process in a Bill produced by government that goes through normal and proper parliamentary procedure in one Session, so that we are all clear about it and can legislate properly. The worst way to tackle this is through private Bills that take literally years to process and cost local authorities—or more particularly their taxpayers—hundreds of thousands of pounds, and inevitably leave us with a piecemeal situation across the country.
I am happy to give our support to this Second Reading, but it is in a sense conditional support in that I hope it will not be necessary to give it again.
My Lords, I support the speech of my good noble friend Lord Bilston. I declare an interest in that many years ago I had a close association with the National Market Traders Federation. I recall traders’ agitation at the behaviour of pedlars at the federation’s annual meetings and at the impact on the business of more than 30,000 traders of having to comply with all sorts of rules and regulations quite properly imposed on them by national and local government. I have nothing against pedlars; there must be some good and some bad—they are typical of a group of people. The phrase has been used more than once in this debate, “We are where we are”: that is, we are on the verge of sending a Bill to Committee where it will be thoroughly discussed and reported on. Therefore, I hope the Government will recognise that this matter should not be dealt with in private legislation but that it is worthy of a government Bill.
My noble friend Lord Bilston referred to the fact that in 1996 Ministers said that this matter would be looked at very closely. However, 15 years later we are where we are. I do not think that anyone who has spoken is against government Bills as opposed to private legislation. However, the relevant authorities were forced to promote these private Bills in the absence of a government Bill. I hope that the powers that be—whoever they are—will recognise that a government Bill is needed. When the debates take place in Committee and recommendations are made, different points of view will be championed. However, by and large, local government recognises its own needs and the needs of others. Giving these Bills a Second Reading would demonstrate that we want action, not words.
Strategic Defence and Security Review
My Lords, with the leave of the House, it may be a convenient moment for me to repeat a Statement that is being made in another place by the Prime Minister.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the strategic defence and security review. There are four things to say up front. First, this is not simply a cost-saving exercise to get to grips with the biggest budget deficit in post-war history; it is about taking the right decisions to protect our national security in the years ahead. The two are not separate: our national security depends on our economic strength, and vice versa. As our national security is a priority, so defence and security budgets will contribute to deficit reduction on a lower scale than most other departments. Over four years, the defence budget will rise in cash terms and fall by only 8 per cent. And it will meet the NATO 2 per cent of GDP target for defence spending throughout the next four years. But this Government have inherited a £38 billion black hole in the future defence plans—bigger than the entire annual defence budget of £33 billion. Sorting this out is not just vital for tackling the deficit but vital to protecting our national security.
Secondly, this review is about how we project power and influence in a rapidly changing world. We are the sixth-largest economy. Even after this review, we expect to continue with the fourth largest military budget in the world. We have a unique network of alliances and relationships: with the United States, as a member of the EU and NATO, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We have one of the biggest aid programmes in the world, one of the biggest networks of embassies, a time zone that allows us to trade with Asia in the morning and the Americas in the evening, and a language that is spoken across the globe. Our national interest requires our full and active engagement in world affairs. It requires our economy to compete with the strongest and the best. And it requires, too, that we stand up for the values we believe in. Britain has punched above its weight in the world, and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come. But we need to be more thoughtful, more strategic and more co-ordinated in the way we advance our interests and protect our national security. That is what this review sets out to achieve.
Thirdly, I want to be clear that there is no cut whatever in the support for our forces in Afghanistan. The funding for our operations in Afghanistan comes not from the budget of the Ministry of Defence but instead from the Treasury special reserve. So the changes to the Ministry of Defence that result from today’s review will not affect this funding. Furthermore, every time the chiefs have advised me that a particular change might have implications for our operations in Afghanistan, either now or in the years to come, I have heeded that advice. In fact, we have been and will be providing more for our brave forces in Afghanistan: more equipment to counter the threat from IEDs; more training and training equipment; more protected vehicles such as the Warthog heavy protection vehicle, which will be out there by the end of the year; more surveillance capability, including unmanned aircraft systems; and crucially, at last, the right level of helicopter capability.
Fourthly, this review has been very different from those before it. It has looked at all elements of national security, home and abroad, together, not just defence on its own. It has been led from the top, with all the relevant people around the table, and it will be repeated every five years. This review sets out a step change in the way we protect this country’s security interests: from a Ministry of Defence that is too big, too inefficient and too overspent to a department that is smaller, smarter, and more responsible in its spending; from a strategy over-reliant on military intervention to a higher priority for conflict prevention; from concentrating on conventional threats to a new focus on unconventional threats; and from Armed Forces that are overstretched, underequipped and deployed too often without appropriate planning to the most professional and most flexible modern forces in the world, fully equipped for the challenges of the future.
Let me take each in turn—first, the MoD. Even though the MoD will get real growth in its budget next year, the department will face some significant challenges. So the MoD will cut its estate, dispose of unnecessary assets, renegotiate contracts with industry, and cut its management overheads, including reducing civilian numbers in the MoD by 25,000 by 2015. We will also adjust and simplify civilian and military allowances. The new operational allowance stays, but there will be difficult decisions, although these will be made much easier by the return of the Army from Germany. Taken together, all these changes in the MoD will save £4.7 billion over the spending review period. Getting to grips with procurement is vital. Take the Nimrod programme, for example. It has cost the British taxpayer over £3 billion. The number of aircraft to be procured has fallen from 21 to nine. The cost per aircraft has increased by over 200 per cent and it is over eight years late. Today, we are cancelling it.
Second is the move from military intervention to conflict prevention. Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the immense financial and human costs of large-scale military interventions. While we must retain the ability to undertake such operations, we must also get better at treating the causes of instability, not just dealing with the consequences. When we fail to prevent conflict and have to resort to military intervention, the costs are always far higher. We will expand our capability to deploy military and civilian teams to support stabilisation efforts and build capacity in other states, and we will double our investment in aid for fragile and unstable countries. By 2015, just under a third of the budget of the Department for International Development will be spent on conflict prevention.
Thirdly, we need to focus more of our resources not on the conventional threats of the past but on the unconventional threats of the future. Over the next four years, we will invest more than £500 million of new money in a national cybersecurity programme. This will significantly enhance our ability to detect and defend against cyberattacks and fix shortfalls in the critical cyberinfrastructure on which the whole country now depends. We will continue to prioritise tackling the terrorist threat, both from al-Qaeda and its affiliates and from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland. Although efficiencies will need to be made, we are giving priority to continuing investment in our world-class intelligence agencies and we will sharpen our readiness to act on civil emergencies, energy security, organised crime, counterproliferation and border security.
Fourthly, from Armed Forces that are overstretched and underequipped, we need to move to the most professional and most flexible modern forces in the world. We inherited an Army with scores of tanks in Germany that was until recently forced to face the deadly threat of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan in Land Rovers designed for Northern Ireland. We have a Royal Air Force hampered in its efforts to support our forces overseas because of an ageing strategic airlift fleet, and a Royal Navy locked into a cycle of ever smaller numbers of ever more expensive ships. We cannot go on like this.
The White Paper we have published today sets out a clear vision for the future structure of our Armed Forces. The precise budgets will be agreed in future spending reviews. My own strong view is that this structure will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015. Between now and then, the Government are committed to the vision of 2020 set out in this review and will make decisions accordingly. We are also absolutely determined that the MoD will become much more commercially hard-headed in future and adopt a much more aggressive drive for efficiencies. The transition from the mess we inherited to that coherent future force will be a difficult process, especially in the current economic conditions, but we are determined to take the necessary steps.
Our ground forces will continue to have a vital operational role, so we will retain a large, well equipped Army, numbering around 95,500 by 2015—that is 7,000 fewer than today. We will continue to be one of the very few countries able to deploy a self-sustaining, properly equipped brigade-size force anywhere around the world and sustain it indefinitely if needs be; and we will be able to put 30,000 into the field for a major, one-off operation. In terms of the return from Germany, half our personnel should be back by 2015 and the remainder by 2020, and tanks and heavy artillery numbers will be reduced by around 40 per cent. But the introduction of 12 new heavy-lift Chinook helicopters, new protected mobility vehicles and enhanced communications equipment will make the Army more mobile, more flexible and better equipped to face future threats than ever before.
We will also review the structure of our Reserve Forces to ensure we make the most efficient use of their skills, experience and outstanding capabilities. That will be chaired by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, General Houghton, with my honourable friend the Member for Canterbury, who serves in the reserves, acting as his deputy.
The Royal Navy will be similarly equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We are procuring a fleet of the most capable nuclear-powered hunter-killer Astute class submarines anywhere in the world. Able to operate in secret across the world’s oceans, these submarines will also feed vital strategic intelligence back to the UK and to our military forces across the world. We will complete the production of six Type 45 destroyers—one of the most effective multirole destroyers in the world. But we will also start a new programme to develop less expensive, more flexible, modern frigates. Total naval manpower will reduce to around 30,000 by 2015, and by 2020 the total number of frigates and destroyers will reduce from 23 to 19. But the fleet as a whole will be better able to take on today’s tasks, from tackling drug-trafficking and piracy to counterterrorism.
The Royal Air Force will also need to take some tough measures in the coming years to ensure a strong future. We have decided to retire the Harrier, which has served this country so well for 40 years. The Harrier is a remarkably flexible aircraft, but the military advice is that we should sustain the Tornado fleet, as that aircraft is more capable and better able to sustain operations in Afghanistan. RAF manpower will also reduce to around 33,000 by 2015. Inevitably, this will mean changes in the way in which some RAF bases are used but some are likely to be required by the Army as forces return from Germany. We owe it to communities up and down the country who have supported our Armed Forces for many years to engage with them before final decisions are taken.
By the 2020s, the Royal Air Force will be based around a fleet of two of the most capable fighter jets anywhere in the world: a modernised Typhoon fleet, fully capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, and the Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s most advanced multirole combat jet. This fleet will be complemented by a growing fleet of unmanned air vehicles, and the A400M transport aircraft, together with the existing fleet of C17 aircraft and the future strategic tanker aircraft, will allow us to fly our forces wherever they are needed in the world.
As we refocus our resources on the most likely threats to our security, so we will remain vigilant against all possible threats and retain the capability to react to the unexpected. So, as we cut back on tanks and heavy artillery, we will retain the ability to regenerate those capabilities if needs be. While in the short term the ability to deploy air power from the sea is unlikely to be essential, over the longer term we cannot assume that bases for land-based aircraft will always be available when and where we need them, so we will ensure the UK has carrier strike capability for the future.
This is another area where the last Government got it badly wrong. There is only one thing worse than spending money you do not have and that is buying the wrong things with it, and doing so in the wrong way. The carriers they ordered are unable to work effectively with our key defence partners, the United States or France. They had failed to plan so that carriers and planes would arrive at the same time. They ordered the more expensive, less capable version of the Joint Strike Fighter to fly off the carriers, and they signed contracts so that we were left in a situation where even cancelling the second carrier would cost more than to build it. I have this in written confirmation from BAE systems. That is the legacy that we inherited—an appalling legacy that the British people have every right to be angry about. But I say to them today that this Government will act in the national interest. We would not have started from here but the right decisions are now being made in the right way and for the right reasons.
It will take time to rectify these mistakes but this is how we will do so. We will build both carriers but hold one in extended readiness. We will fit the “cats and traps”—the catapults and arrester gear—to the operational carrier. That will allow our allies to operate from our operational carrier and allow us to buy the carrier version of the Joint Strike Fighter, which is more capable, less expensive, has a longer range and carries more weapons. We will also aim to bring the planes and carriers in at the same time.
We cannot dismiss the possibility that a major direct nuclear threat to the UK might re-emerge so we will retain and renew the ultimate insurance policy—our independent nuclear deterrent, which guards this country round the clock every day of the year. We have completed a value-for-money review of our future deterrent plans. As a result we can: extend the life of the Vanguard class so that the first replacement submarine is not required until 2028; reduce the number of operational launch tubes on those new submarines from 12 to eight; reduce the number of warheads on our submarines at sea from 48 to 40; and reduce our stockpile of operational warheads from fewer than 160 to fewer than 120. The next phase of the programme to renew our deterrent will start by the end of this year. As a result of the changes to the programme, the decision to start construction of the new submarines need not now be taken until around 2016. We will save around £1.2 billion and defer a further £2 billion of spending from the next 10 years. So yes, we will save money, but we will retain and renew a credible, continuous and effective minimum nuclear deterrent that will stand constant guard over this nation’s security.
Finally, the immense contribution of our highly professional Special Forces is necessarily largely unreported but their immense capability is recognised across the world. We are significantly increasing our investment in our Special Forces to ensure that they remain at the leading edge of operational capability prepared to meet current and future threats, and maintaining their unique and specialist role. This enhanced capability will allow them to remain at extremely high readiness for emergency operations through enhanced logistics, medical support and greater intelligence capability to support their operations.
We were left a situation where we had: a budget £38 billion overspent; Armed Forces at war, overstretched, underequipped and ill prepared for the challenges of the future; and the biggest budget deficit in post-war history. I believe that we have begun to deal with all those things, sorting out the legacy and fitting Britain’s defences for the future. I commend the Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for arriving slightly late for the Statement. I would not wish to have shown any disrespect to the House.
I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in the other place and join him in paying tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces. I also pay tribute to their families, who sustain their loved ones as they prepare for, serve on and recover from operational service. We must always ensure that their interests are protected.
I thank the Leader of the House, and through him the Prime Minister and the Government, for advance notice of his Statement—advance notice in today’s papers, in yesterday’s papers, in Sunday’s papers and in Saturday’s papers. It almost did not matter that we in the Opposition got actual advance notice of the Prime Minister’s Statement a full 10 minutes before he made it. However, I must record my thanks to the Secretary of State for Defence for his oral briefing. I am extremely grateful. I have to say to the Leader that, as someone who takes Parliament seriously, I think that the process of announcement of this review and the way in which it has come out have been shambolic. I hope that the Government will learn lessons from this.
On issues of national defence, we will always seek to be constructive. I believe that the Government approach the challenge of national defence as all Governments have done—with the right intentions—and it does neither our politics nor our armed services any good to imply anything different. The cuts announced today clearly represent a significant reduction, but what matters is not only the amount we spend but what the spending does to help ensure the defence and security of our country. That is what I want to focus on today.
First, I remind the Leader of the House of the concern expressed by the Defence Secretary in the leaked letter to the Prime Minister, that,
“this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review)”.
He will know very well that the Defence Secretary is not alone in expressing this concern. It was shared by the Select Committee in the other place and, I believe, by many Members of this House, including noble and gallant Members. I look forward to hearing from some of them this afternoon, because I share those concerns. Is it not instructive that the strategic defence review in 1998 was carried out over a much longer timescale, with much greater consultation and in-depth study? Can the Leader of the House respond to the widespread perception that this review was driven by the short-term cuts in tomorrow's spending review and that it would have been better to have a longer-term strategic defence review?
I ask the Leader of the House about the most immediate and pressing issue: Afghanistan. I reiterate that we support the mission in Afghanistan and will work in a bipartisan way with the Government to both stabilise the country and bring our troops home safely. Have the Government received specific assurances from the Chief of the Defence Staff that no decision announced today will undermine or disadvantage in any way our military operations there?
I also raise the issue of extra helicopters, which those on the Benches opposite highlighted repeatedly in the previous Parliament. Today, the Government are, I believe, announcing a cut in the number of additional helicopters. Why have the Government done that?
I am sure that the Leader of the House agrees that a key part of preparing for the challenges of the future is the targeting of limited national resources at the most pressing threats. Yesterday's national security strategy identified terrorism as a tier-1 threat. Given that today's announcement forms only a partial response, can he assure the House that nothing announced today or tomorrow in the changes to the Home Office budget will undermine or weaken our ability to counter terrorism in all its forms?
On the issue of preparing our Armed Forces for future challenges, we agree that there are some opportunities to make savings in capabilities that were better suited to the challenges of the Cold War, such as in the number of Challenger tanks and heavy artillery, but I seek reassurance from the Government that they are content that the decisions made today do not compromise our ability to support current operations and defend our interests around the world. In particular, what does the capability gap arising from the scrapping of our Harriers and the withdrawal of “Ark Royal” mean for our force projection, which was made much of in the national security strategy, and our ability to defend our overseas territories? In that context, can the noble Lord also reassure the House that it really is the case that the best strategic decision for the next decade is for Britain to have aircraft carriers without aircraft? I heard what the noble Lord said about aircraft carriers, and I am sure that some of my noble friends will want to set the record straight.
I ask the Leader of the House about two things that he did not mention in repeating the Prime Minister's Statement. Can he confirm what he did not tell your Lordships' House: that page 19 of the review sets out a one-third reduction in the number of troops that Britain can deploy on both a short-term and an enduring basis? Will he take this opportunity to respond to the huge disappointment that there will be in south Wales following the decision announced in a Written Ministerial Statement in relation to the defence training college at St Athan, which the Prime Minister personally promised would go ahead, and confirm that, notwithstanding that action, St Athan will still have a future as a training facility for our services?
There will be concerns that this review has failed to address strategically the important questions about the future of our nuclear deterrent. I believe that there is widespread agreement in this House on supporting the retention of a nuclear deterrent alongside progress in the multilateral disarmament talks. I must tell the Leader of the House that there will be concern that the Government have announced a whole range of decisions on Trident, despite telling us that it was not part of the strategic defence review. Will he confirm that by choosing delay, the Government have created an unfunded spending commitment in the defence budget in the next Parliament—precisely the problem that the Prime Minister told us he wants to get away from in procurement?
We will help the Leader of the House, the Prime Minister and their Government as they seek to do what is best for our country's security. But we on this side of the House do not have to tell him that many people will believe that this review is a profound missed opportunity. This is a spending review dressed up as a defence review—shambolically conducted, hastily prepared and not credible as a strategic blueprint for our future defence needs. On this side of the House we will support the Government where we can, but we will also give the Government's strategy serious scrutiny and, where necessary and appropriate, we will subject it to the principled and responsible opposition that it deserves.
It is, frankly, rich for noble Lords opposite to jeer about reading press briefings given not by members of the Government but by others. You only have to read the memoirs written by former distinguished Secretaries of State from the former Labour Government to understand just how much backbiting there was in the Government of whom the noble Baroness was a member.
That is a very interesting point but it has no bearing on the questions that I asked the noble Lord. I would say to him that one of the most important strategies on the security of this country was published just yesterday, but the Government did not grace this Chamber with their presence so that we could hold them accountable. However, we did hear the Home Secretary on the “Today” programme, and we were fully briefed about it in the press.
My Lords, I would not have mentioned leaks if the noble Baroness had not spent the first two minutes of her reply asking me questions on them.
As for the two reviews that we have published, yesterday we published the national security strategy, which I commend to your Lordships. It pointed the way for today's announcement on the strategic defence and security review, and the entire purpose was for the Prime Minister to make a comprehensive Statement today. Again I accuse noble Lords opposite. They never did a comprehensive review combining the strategic overview and the defence strategy in a single document. If they had done so in the round then we would not have been left in the mess that we now have.
The noble Baroness asks why we did it so quickly. I say to her: why did they take so long to repeat the exercise that they did in 1998? It was 12 years. Maybe they were concentrating on it but never came to a conclusion. This Government were pushed into action because of the appalling inheritance—the legacy—that we have discovered: the £38 billion overspend that will have to be paid for over the course of the next few years.
On an area which I think the noble Baroness and I will agree on—our role in Afghanistan—I can confirm that nothing in today’s announcement will have an impact on our efforts in Afghanistan. We believe that the helicopters that we have, building on the announcements that the previous Government made, are enough, and we have announced today that we will buy 12 additional heavy-lift Chinook helicopters which in the long term will make a substantial difference.
On the future of St Athan, as announced by the Secretary of State for Defence this morning, the defence training rationalisation programme has, regrettably, been terminated. However, given the significant investment in the area, St Athan remains ideally placed as a future site for defence training.
Let me turn to the capability gap, as it is called, on the carrier strike force. We may well not have been driven to the decisions that we have made about this if we had not found things as they were when we came into government in May 2010. We believe that there is a military case for a carrier strike capability, but not one that relies on the differently configured Joint Strike Fighters. That is why we have decided to invest even more money into making sure that there is a “cat and trap” capability on one of these aircraft carriers. That means that we will be able to co-operate with our allies in NATO and the EU and with the French and the Americans, who will be able to use our platform. In the short term, we believe that we have the overflying rights and the land-based runways to be able to continue to maintain air cover. In the long term, of course, none of us knows whether that will be possible: hence the reason why we have maintained the carrier programme.
My Lords, first, I should like to ask my noble friend whether we can have a major debate on this review in this House. Clearly, 20 minutes following a Statement on a matter of this importance is unsatisfactory. I am sure that the House would welcome a full debate. The coalition Government had a difficult task, given that the carriers had been irresponsibly ordered. Industry quite clearly once again has run rings around the MoD and the previous Government. On these Benches, we welcome the deferment of the main gate decision on Trident, the extra expenditure on our special forces and cybersecurity, the focus on Afghanistan and the pulling back from Germany.
I have four questions to ask my noble friend. First, the Prime Minister wants us to remain “a major military power”. Is not 2 per cent of gross domestic product just too thin to maintain that capability? Secondly, what will the savings be on the phasing out of our Harrier force? Thirdly, is it not time to look more imaginatively at our Reserve Forces? One only has to look at what America does with its National Guard. We should start thinking outside the box, which, surely, would link in with the Prime Minister’s belief in a big society. Finally, sadly, very little in this Statement refers to or discusses co-operation with France. Will my noble friend say a little more about that?
My Lords, are we a major military power? Of course we are. We are the sixth richest nation in the world. We will have the fourth largest military budget in the world. With the modernisation that is taking place, we will be extremely powerful and will be able to reach across the globe. The 2 per cent figure of GDP is the NATO target. We will continue to meet that target throughout the next two years. I do not have the exact figure for the Harrier savings, but they are substantial: possibly around £1 billion. In the Statement, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a comprehensive study of the reserves by General Houghton, and it is entirely right that he should do so.
I am sure the entire House will gratefully receive the information that there will be a debate on the Floor of this House. I understand that it has been pencilled in for 12 November and I hope that interested noble Lords will come to it. We hope to make further announcements shortly on France, but we seek to create a stronger partnership with that country.
My Lords, having done, with honourable colleagues, a strategic defence review that was consultative, inclusive, policy-led and convincing, perhaps I can say to the Leader of the House that I know a strategic review, I have done a strategic review, and this is not a strategic review.
Instead, will it not be seen by the country as a cobbled-together exercise on the back of a letter from the Treasury calling for deep and random cuts in the defence budget? As such, it is unworthy of those who serve in Her Majesty’s forces today. Is he not concerned about promoting a policy review that will have aircraft carriers without aircraft, an Army that is at war reduced by 7,000 operational troops, and really nothing at all said about how we will blend in and mix with our NATO allies to meet the challenges of the future? I also ask about procurement, of which the Leader of the House, and I daresay the Prime Minister as well, are making much at present. Why have they called for yet another review? Last year, Mr Bernard Grey made a comprehensive and detailed study of the procurement crisis in the Ministry of Defence. It was a clear analysis and the recommendations were accepted. Why has his offer to help the Government been completely snubbed? Finally, on the cancellation of the Nimrod programme, what is going to happen to maritime reconnaissance capability in this country?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, was blessed as a Secretary of State for Defence in that he was the first Labour Secretary of State for Defence to follow on from a Conservative Government, under which the public finances were properly looked after. He was able to make the money and take the time. That luxury was not afforded to this coalition Administration when taking over after 13 years. If there had been a little more strategic economic thinking by the last Government, we would not be in the state that we are in.
The noble Lord is right, however, to ask questions about procurement. We have uncovered a number of issues and there will need to be major studies on precisely how this is done. I hope that we will be able to say more about that in our debate next month.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of WS Atkins and a number of pro bono roles with various service charities and organisations. I cannot say that I welcome the Statement on this cash-driven defence review, and I certainly cannot possibly dignify it with the word “strategic”. It will be viewed with dismay by our hardworking and operationally pressed sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen. Can the Leader of the House inform noble Lords, with regard to naval reductions in the destroyer frigate force levels, what operational tasks currently being undertaken by an already overstretched fleet will be concomitantly dropped and how this will resonate with our allies?
My Lords, we believe that the newly configured naval forces will be able to do all the standing tasks they have been asked to do. The Navy will have the helicopters, the new frigates, the submarines, the renewed Trident and the carriers that are being built. Of all the Armed Forces, I would hope that the Navy will feel able to support the decisions that have been taken.
My Lords, I remind the noble Lord of the bitter disappointment that is being felt at the decision not to proceed with the defence training academy at St Athan. This is not so much a strategic defence review, but more a butchery of our defence capability. I was a Defence Minister when we did a lot of work in preparing for this academy, which was intended to provide a world-class training facility for our Armed Forces, as they rightly deserve. Even in the most difficult times, it is utterly insane to eat our seed corn when we desperately need to invest in training for the future. Will the Leader of the House go back to his Cabinet colleagues and say that, so far as St Athan is concerned, they need to think again?
My Lords, I have already mentioned the case of St Athan. This decision comes despite strenuous efforts being made by the MoD in helping the consortium make the project affordable and in developing the commercial structure necessary within the given time. I should make it clear that this decision was not taken as part of the SDSR and that the MoD still intends to move towards greater collective training on a reduced training estate.
My Lords, this review has surely shown that we are overdue a serious national conversation about the identity of our country and its interests in a dark, volatile and troubled world. Does the Leader of the House agree that a nationwide debate on the questions raised by the review would be much welcomed and long overdue? A national conversation on defence and security issues may indeed have little impact on this review, but it might help to frame and shape its successor.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate. In the national security strategy document, which was published yesterday afternoon, there is a page on national security and British values which I think he would find interesting and like to play a part in. There should be a discussion, a debate and what he called a big conversation with the general public about these matters because they affect us all.
In paying tribute to our service men and women, I have to say that they deserve a little better than this in terms of the time spent on, the depth of and the range of consultation. On the presentation of the argument, I would much prefer not to have the party politics in it.
I wish to make a number of points in response to the contribution of the Leader of the House because he got one or two things wrong. First, on the carriers, can he confirm the sequence by which the Harrier jump jets will be removed? He may not know it but our present carriers are actually through-deck cruisers with a very short runway. If you did not have the short take-off and vertical landing aircraft, other aircraft would fall off the carrier’s edge on leaving and arriving. This is why we ordered the variant from the Americans. Can the noble Lord confirm that the Harrier jump jets are being phased out? If they are, we will not have anything which can go on the present aircraft carriers. Given that the whole point of an aircraft carrier is to carry aircraft which can leave and join it, it would appear that we will have a massive capability gap.
Secondly, will the noble Lord respond to the point about the reduction of our troop numbers? I confess that I thought it was grossly unwise to announce in advance to the Taliban and everyone else when we intended to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. It reinforces that error when we tell them not only that we have the option of withdrawing but that we are reducing our numbers so that we have to withdraw. Is it an absolute commitment to reduce troop numbers irrespective of conditions on the ground in Afghanistan?
On cyber, I welcome the £0.5 billion increase provided that it does not include money that is meant to be allocated to the intercept modernisation programme. If it does, it will be grossly inadequate and will completely undermine our capacity to mount the surveillance of communications in and out of this country which has been the basis of our counterterrorist intelligence efforts.
Finally, will the noble Lord confirm that, although this is the biggest reduction in our fighting capability since 1945, every single element of additional fighting power that he mentioned today was ordered by the previous Government?
I am delighted that the noble Lord welcomes the announcement on dealing with cyberterrorism. It is an important new threat which we take seriously. However, I do not agree with his remarks which gave the impression that there was no consultation and no discussion with anyone at any stage. Of course there was. There had to be in order to be able to make the decisions that we have made today.
We have been in Afghanistan since 2003; we are aiming to leave by 2015. Given that we will have been there for 12 years and that we have put enormous resources into training the local police and the army, it is fair enough to have given a five-year warning of our intention to leave. However, we will not leave Afghanistan completely. DfID, with its enormous budget, will clearly wish to play a role.
There will be a gap in air cover after the retirement of the Harriers, which are due to be disbanded by April 2011. We take no pleasure in making that decision; it means that one of our carriers will immediately be withdrawn. However, we believe that our land-based runways and overflying rights will give us the global reach by jet aircraft that we need.
My Lords, many of us will have found it very difficult to listen to the chastisements that my noble friend has received from the other side of the House when some noble Lords here bear a very heavy responsibility for the mess that we are now in. Previous Ministers placed orders with money that they did not have. That now threatens employment and has made inevitable the Statement which my noble friend has had to repeat today. Anybody who studied this matter with any interest knew that, once those carriers were ordered—I think that it was in the time of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson—it became a shambolic programme from then on. We still do not have any carriers. Everybody knew the pressure, problems and lumpiness that it would create for the naval budget. The difficulties that my noble friend and the Prime Minister have had to cope with are simply enormous. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, will know that his strategic defence review never said that we were going to be in Afghanistan or that we were going to fight a second Iraq war. The then Government made no adequate attempt to adjust the policy and the resources to meet those new demands. We now have to get the resources in place based on our best estimate of the risks that we face and then, if the situation changes and the unexpected happens, be ready to change as well.
My Lords, the House will know just how grateful I am to hear my noble friend, with all the common sense that he speaks born of experience and of having given these warnings over many years while we were in opposition. I entirely agree with him that we must now look to the future, deal with the damage of the past and focus our best resources on getting the best result.
My Lords, I am afraid that I have to share the view of a number of noble Lords and, I think, a number of people across the country that this review is not really strategic but is cost driven. However, we are where we are and a Government have to govern. Therefore, they have to explain what they are going to do. It is no good having some political knockabout about what might have gone on in the past.
I shall focus on the carriers. I happen to have an interest in them in that I have spent quite a large amount of my life on aircraft carriers, so I think that I know quite a lot about them. I am delighted by the decision that we will go ahead with the two new aircraft carriers. That fits in exactly with the view that I think all of us have of the United Kingdom; namely, that we need global reach and that we are still a great power. A lot of people might deny that, but I argue that we are. We are one of the six richest nations in the world. We have commitments all around the world; we have huge investments around the world; we run global shipping; we are an important and great power. There is no doubt that, when it comes to flexibility and capability for global reach, aircraft carriers have it in spades. Therefore, I find it extraordinary that a member of the coalition should say, “Well, we only got another one because they were bloody well ordered and it was going to cost so much”. It was a good decision to go for them, but I am concerned by the inconsistencies in what is being done.
The Leader of the House mentioned that we will put cats and traps in only one carrier. That means that, for a percentage of the time—I would be interested to know what his assessment of it is—there will be no carrier available because, if you have one of something, it cannot always be there. You can bet your bottom dollar that, at the time when you really need it, it will be deep in refit; that is my experience. Therefore, I believe we should have cats and traps on both of them and run both of them.
There is also an inconsistency in how we go from where we are today to there. In a hospital where there were old-type scanners, one would not dream of saying, “We’ll get new ones in 10 years but we will stop using the old ones for 10 years”. That would be bonkers, and it is bonkers to get rid of the Harriers. The noble Lord says that it was a military judgment that the Harriers and not the Tornados should go, but the Harriers’ job cannot be done by any other aircraft while the Tornados’ can. I should be interested to know why that decision was made.
Finally, the Leader of the House mentioned DfID. I find it extraordinary that we give money to India and China, which are developing carrier programmes, yet we have difficulty in funding ourselves. Will we continue doing this in future?
My Lords, to take the last point first, the DfID budget is protected and substantial and was built up by the previous Administration. That department needs to decide how to make its priorities in view of the Government’s overall priorities. On the whole, I welcomed the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead. He certainly started off in a very positive light. He asked one straightforward question about the carriers and the cats and traps. We have given a commitment to putting cats and traps on to one carrier—that will go ahead—but we have not yet decided finally on what should happen to the second one. We do not need to make that decision now but, when we do, it will be widely announced to the House.
My Lords, the noble Lord needs to calm himself down. It is well precedented over many years that 20 minutes of Back-Bench time is allowed after a Statement. I know that this is a considerable and important Statement, which is why the usual channels have already agreed that there should be a whole day’s debate devoted to this subject. I know that many noble Lords wanted to speak, including three former Secretaries of State for Defence whom I can see on the other side. We should hear from them all, and I look forward to the opportunity. But we should now carry on with the next business. That would be in accordance with our rules.
This is a self-regulating House and the Leader of the House has made my point for me in pointing out all the people who want to speak. Just because we have always done something in the past does not mean to say that we do not have to change it in future.
My Lords, of course this is a self-regulating House, but it is not an anarchists’ House. We do not believe in anarchy; we do not make it up as we go along. We have broad rules and a broad framework, which are supported by most noble Lords in the House.
The House is due to finish at six o’clock tonight and everyone will be going home because there is no other business. This is the most important issue. Tomorrow we will have a Statement on the comprehensive spending review. Will we get only 20 minutes on that? That would be absolutely outrageous. This House needs to pull itself together and make some decisions and not just do something because we have always done it.
Leeds City Council Bill
Second Reading (Continued)
Now that we have returned to normality, I shall add a couple of words in the gap. I have debated a number of these Bills, in particular the Select Committee on Bournemouth Borough Council Bill and the Manchester City Council Bill, as well as the Westminster Bill, where the issue of pedlars raised its head on a number of occasions. There was a Private Member’s Bill in another place some time ago. I hope that the Minister will come up with some idea on what we can do about pedlars, because, quite frankly, I am fed up with hearing about them on private Bills.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bilston for giving us the opportunity to discuss these Bills and for the learning experience of dealing with the erstwhile mysteries of private Bills. In particular, this means that, unlike with public Bills, we are not formally affirming the principle of the Bills today. If we were, I would say that my noble friend has made a powerful case. However, given that each of these Bills is, I believe, the subject of petitions, their destination hereafter is to a Select Committee.
We have heard from my noble friend that they have a long and tortuous history, having secured Second Reading in another place over two years ago. Yet if these Bills’ history is long, the legislation to which they refer goes back much further, to the Pedlars Act 1871. Street trading is an ancient tradition with a long and varied history—one which, as we have heard, continues to have a place in modern society—but the legislative framework which underpins it is in need of modernisation, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, so ably illustrated. We also heard from my noble friend of the particular issues which these four councils share in respect of the current legislation, and the plea that Government should take action at national level to avoid the necessity of a further group of councils bringing forward similar private Bills, the cost of each of which can run to several tens of thousands of pounds.
The Bills seek to: extend the definition of street trading so that it covers the supply of services as well as that of any article; alter the exemption enjoyed by pedlars from the street trading regime; empower council or police officers to seize articles and equipment where they consider that a street trading offence has been committed; allow the courts to order the forfeiture of any article, receptacle or equipment which relates to an offence, and; empower council officers to serve fixed penalty notices. In addition, as we have heard, Reading and Canterbury are seeking powers to regulate touting.
The Bills are not identical in respect of alterations to pedlars’ exemptions from the street trading provisions. In the case of Canterbury and Nottingham, it is proposed to limit the exemption to persons trading by house-to-house visits; for Leeds and Reading, there is an additional requirement that all items used in connection with trading are capable of being carried without other means of support by the pedlar, such as trolleys. My noble friend explained the background to that.
I shall concentrate my brief remarks on the instruction which is the subject of the Motion spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He is seeking to require the Select Committee to which the Bills are committed to consider them in the light of a prior Select Committee’s,
“strong reservations about the …piecemeal”,
“private legislation to remedy … problems”,
with national legislation. Indeed, the noble Lords, Lord Bilston, Lord Graham and Lord Tope, all included that issue in their contributions. The Select Committee recommended that the Government should undertake an urgent review of the law. Things have moved on since the Select Committee’s considerations of those Bills. The Labour Government and the existing Scottish Government consulted on the case for amending the law as it applies to the control of street trading and the certification of pedlars. Consultation commenced on 6 November 2009 and closed on 12 February 2010.
Prior to this, the then Government commissioned research from Durham University, which was undertaken between June and September 2008 and published in February 2009. The purpose of the research was to assemble qualitative and quantitative evidence on how the prevailing street trading and pedlary laws were working across Great Britain. This suggested that the scale of pedlary in Great Britain was relatively modest, with some 3,000 to 4,500 being granted certificates and there being little evidence that those acting lawfully were in direct competition with shops or street traders. Much of the evidence submitted by local authorities was on the activities of illegal street trading and those who seek to exploit outdated definitions of pedlars, which is the essence of my noble friend’s knowledgeable contributions.
The joint consultation sought views on: ways of making street trading and pedlary regulatory regimes more effective and proportionate; providing local authorities with additional enforcement options in respect of illegal street trading; updating the Pedlars Act to modernise the definition of a pedlar; considering how local authorities might exert proportionate limits on certified pedlar activity in designated areas; draft guidance for enforcement officers, street traders and pedlars, and on options for revoking the Pedlars Act and providing regulation within the street trading regime.
The UK and Scottish Governments set out preferred options over some of these areas. On the matter of the meaning of “pedlar” they recognised the need to clarify the definition and offered some possible elements of a new definition, one of which included the use of a small means of carrying goods. The consultation also covered the matter of the services directive and changes needed to the regime for pedlars of service-only activities, a matter that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has taken an interest in.
It will be seen that these preferences cover much of what is sought in these private Bills and provide an update of our latest deliberations. An intervening event in May this year precluded the Labour Government from taking this forward, but doubtless it has now found its way into the tray of the Minister. We look forward with interest to her contribution to this Second Reading. It is accepted that the Government will be neutral on Second Reading of private Bills, but will she say whether, and to what extent, the responses to the consultation are to be published, whether further legislation is planned and, if so, covering what areas? On this matter, I contend that we have given the coalition a good legacy—indeed, a good start.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will consider not pressing his proposed instruction to the Select Committee—he indicated that he probably would not—as the passage of time has seen at least some progress on the recommendations that he sought to highlight. I hope that we have common cause on the desirability of agreeing a modern, practical and proportionate framework for street traders and pedlars. These four Bills, as my noble friend has explained, seek just that in the absence of national legislation.
My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to respond to the debate, which, as always when private Bills on these matters come before either House, has been informative and lively.
We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Bilston, Lord Tope and Lord Graham, who have taken this opportunity to set out their support for these Bills. In doing so, they have also made plain their concerns about the national position regarding the regulation of street trading and pedlars. Other noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord McKenzie—have been clear that they feel that the case for these private local Bills, or at least some elements of them, is not made and that they may be unfair to the genuine trader. Nevertheless, they too acknowledged that there may be a case for providing additional powers for local authorities generally—in particular, where problems are experienced with traders in the street that they feel cannot be properly dealt with under existing powers.
Sorry, did I include you in that? That was due to enthusiasm. Scratch that out.
The Government will of course reflect further on all those views as we consider the need for change to national legislation. For now, though, I would like to inform the House about the Government’s next steps in relation to the national situation.
I should begin by restating an important procedural point, which I think the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has already made. Traditionally, the Government do not take any view on the content or progress of private Bills, unless they are exceptionally moved to do so. It is a matter for Parliament to consider private business on its merit. On this occasion, however, I am grateful for the opportunity to bring to the attention of this House an issue that has emerged in the course of my department’s consideration of the position of the national pedlar and street trader regimes in the context of the services directive.
During this debate I cannot go into the detail of the Government’s forthcoming response to our consultation on national street trader licensing and pedlar legislation. Nevertheless, the House may be aware of the contribution of my colleague in another place, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, to the revival debate on two of these Bills and the City of Westminster Bill in the other place in July this year. On that occasion, the Minister acknowledged that whatever the Government’s conclusions following the responses to the consultation, the way ahead must take full account of the effect of the services directive, particularly because in the light of further analysis and exchanges with other member states, it has become apparent that retailing, including by pedlars and other street traders, is considered to be the provision of a service within the scope of the directive and is not simply the supply of goods, which is exempt.
Noble Lords will also recall the reply I gave on this issue in response to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, also in July. Those noble Lords with an understanding of the services directive will already appreciate that its application to this area must have a significant impact on the future shape of regulation. This is not least because, in the cases of both pedlars certification and street trader licensing, we are dealing with what, in the terms of the directive, are authorisation schemes. Many of the provisions of the services directive relate directly to authorisation schemes, the conditions under which they may be justified and, where they can be justified, the conditions under which they may operate. The Government will publish their full conclusions on this when they respond to the consultation on street trading shortly. In the mean time, and for the purposes of this debate on these private Bills, I draw the attention of the House to the Government’s view that the directive applies to retailing and to the effect that these Bills would have on the ability of certified pedlars to provide their services.
As I mentioned, I cannot say any more about the Government’s conclusions at this time. I bring this point to the attention of the House now so that, should the Bills progress to the Committee stage, their accordance with the services directive can be properly scrutinised. I shall, of course, ensure that as soon as the Government publish their conclusions on this matter, they will be available to the Libraries of this House and in the other place.
More generally—services directive aside—I should like to outline again the matters the Government are considering in this area. Of course they have noted that there are now a number of private Acts and Bills on street trading which contain substantially similar provisions. In fact, including the Bills under discussion this afternoon, there are now more than a dozen such pieces of private legislation either already on the statute book or under consideration. We have also noted that additional Bills, which some in the other place had suggested in debate might be waiting in the wings to be introduced last year, have not so far materialised.
As noble Lords will appreciate, there is much to consider in the wider context of the current national legislation. We have legislation which provides local authorities with the option to regulate street trading in their areas by issuing licences and separate legislation under which itinerant traders can be certified as pedlars and for whom a requirement to obtain a licence to trade in a particular location in a particular local area at a particular time, as licensed street traders are generally permitted to do, is not suitable. It is clear from the research and from the actions of some local authorities that they experience particular difficulties in being able to deal with illegal street trading under the current regimes. It is also clear that for the most part, the problems expressed by local authorities are not to do with legitimate pedlary within the definition of that mode of trade but with those who, although they may have a pedlar certificate, are trading in ways which suggest that they should actually be licensed as street traders and, frankly, subject to enforcement action.
Noble Lords will be aware that some local authorities, in pursuing their private Bills, have acknowledged that in their areas this is indeed the case. They have made adjustments to provisions which otherwise would prevent pedlars trading in certain streets in their areas or would have the practical effect that pedlary would cease in certain streets. The Manchester and Bournemouth Acts were adjusted and I note that the promoters of two of the Bills before us today—the Reading Borough Council Bill and the Leeds City Council Bill—have made adjustments so as not to affect trading by pedlars who carry their stock with them.
Among those matters currently under consideration by the Government are: the effect of unlawful trading on the livelihoods of licensed street traders and others entitled to trade in the streets; the future of the certification of pedlars and the desire not to stifle their legitimate activities; the scope and evidence for making available to local authorities additional powers to help them improve their efficiency when enforcing local licensing against unlawful traders; and the need for guidance for traders and enforcers on the application of the relevant provisions.
The new Government are aware of the history behind these and the other private Bills and Acts, that the Bills represent the desire of the local authorities to exert more control over trading in their respective areas and that the local authorities believe that they need more powers to do so. The previous Government, with, I believe, the good will of this House, undertook research into the effect and application of the current regimes. They then issued a consultation document to seek views on possible options for reform of the relevant national legislation and on interim guidance on the meaning of the current legislation.
In considering the way ahead, the Government need to take into account those issues that I have just mentioned. They also need to settle on solutions that will have a positive impact on the lives of licensed street traders, pedlars and the regulatory authorities. Precisely which options we shall propose in addition to, or as an alternative to, the current regimes will be published by my department shortly. Of course, these matters do not exist in isolation but stand against the backdrop of a difficult economic climate.
We recognise that some of these issues and the stakeholder relationships that underpin them, particularly those between local authorities and licensed street traders or certified pedlars, can be especially sensitive. They encompass important issues, such as the concern of static retail businesses during the downturn, the changing face of the high street, the desire to encourage vibrant and vital trading conditions that encourage value for money for consumers and the need for proportionate and effective enforcement to benefit honest traders of all types and consumers alike. Coupled with these considerations, there is also the desire not to restrict unduly the legitimate trading activities of pedlars, while acknowledging that in some cases there may be a need to restrict trading activity where, for example, there are genuine concerns for safety in congested areas.
I hope I have illustrated that the Government are very sensitive to the different perspectives of the stakeholders involved in these matters, and to their differing views on how best to achieve a fair trading environment in our streets. I hope I have also conveyed to the House that, while in many respects talk of pedlars and street traders might seem quaint, the issues under consideration are very serious. They affect the livelihoods of people running small businesses and speak to the type of society and trading environment that we want to promote and see flourish.
I thank your Lordships again for this opportunity to outline the Government’s position on these important matters.
My Lords, I offer my grateful thanks to all noble Lords who have contributed to the Second Reading of these important private Bills. I also thank those noble Lords who kindly sat through my overlong speech of introduction.
I find myself in the happy and contented position of being able to agree with the noble Lords, Lord Lucas, Lord Tope and Lord Graham, and both the government Minister and, from my own Front Bench, my noble friend Lord McKenzie. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that for at least 10 years the all-party parliamentary group has sought to bring about national legislation that would avoid the question of private Bills. We have discussed these weighty matters with four Ministers. However, at least we got to the point of having the consultation that took place a few months ago.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for her comments. We look forward to continuing the discussions and to resolving the major issues affecting market traders, street traders, pedlars and all the people covered by these private Bills. I thank all noble Lords on behalf of the four local authorities that brought forward these private Bills. I ask the House to give the Leeds City Council Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee.
Reading Borough Council Bill
Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee.
Canterbury City Council Bill
Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee.
Nottingham City Council Bill
Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee.
Leeds City Council Bill
Reading Borough Council Bill
Canterbury City Council Bill
Nottingham City Council Bill
That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to whom the bills are committed that they should consider the bills in the light of the conclusions of the report of the Select Committee on the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [HL] and the Manchester City Council Bill [HL] which, while allowing those bills to proceed, expressed “strong reservations about the use of piecemeal private legislation to remedy perceived problems in national legislation” and recommended that “the Government should undertake an urgent review of the law on trading in the streets and selling from door to door with a view to producing national legislation which reflects current conditions.” (HL Paper 148, Session 2006–07)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton is right that this is a good legacy which has been passed by his Government to ours. I am grateful for all the work that he, his colleagues, and the team behind them have done. I am even more delighted that my noble friend Lady Wilcox and her team have decided to pick up the issue and take it forward with dispatch. That is excellent news which will cheer the promoters of these Bills as much as it cheers me —happiness all round.
I suspect that the promoters will decide to hang fire on these Bills pending the publication of the Government’s thoughts because my noble friend has raised serious questions about the European directive. I am sure that the promoters know how apt that sort of thing is to derail the best drafted legislation and that it may well be best to wait and see what comes. I know that many things can get in the way of legislative timetables from all directions. Therefore, in case we find ourselves in a position where there is nothing from the Government and we have to consider these Bills in Committee, I wish to move my Motion.
Education: Lifelong Learning
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am stimulated to initiate this debate by the publication this time last year of Learning Through Life, a report commissioned by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, with the aim of taking a forward look at the future requirements of and for adult education. I see this debate as a chance for this House to take a look at the same topic.
I start by quoting one of the stories contained in that report. It is called “Irene’s Story”. It states:
“Irene plucked up the courage to come into a family literacy group because she wanted to know how best to support her daughter who was just beginning to show signs of falling behind. A single parent with three children, Irene was living on a poor estate, with a lot to think about as well as the education of her children. Although she felt safer at school than other places, she was still terrified about going ‘back to school’. The course was publicised as ‘help your child, help yourself’, so she ignored the ‘herself’ bit, and went to help her daughter. She talks of the courage that it took just to walk through the door.
“Irene finished the course and found that she had learnt things too—she improved her spelling, found out a bit about how her daughter learns, visited the library, got into the habit of doing things at home with her daughter and was feeling OK with things”.
She then went on to an IT course and an English course, but dropped out when her husband left her and her daughter started having epileptic fits. The story continues:
“Eventually, she re-appeared and went on to an access course at the local college and she set up a group for other parents with children with disabilities—this gave her the courage and the skills to decide she wanted to do something for her community—she joined the school governors, became chair of the tenants’ group, and got a job on the estate”.
This quotation illustrates well a number of points about adult education. First of all, what is adult education? It is, strictly speaking, any education for a person over 19. In this debate, I do not want to discuss university-based higher education for 18 to 21 year-olds, although last week’s publication of the Browne report makes it very tempting to do so. Strictly speaking, this does not fall within my definition of adult education. I prefer the Wikipedia definition quoted in Learning Through Life:
“It’s never too soon or too late for learning”.
The emphasis is on adults returning to organised learning after doing other things. Given that definition, adult education is about a lot of different kinds of learning. It may be about basic literacy or numeracy; it may be about supplementing the basics, such as Irene’s IT and English courses; it may be about upskilling by training for a job that requires particular competences; or it may be about reskilling by training for a new job that opens up new opportunities. Think of the number of people who go on from one Open University course, which they may take to upgrade their skills or qualifications, to another. It may be taken just for the joy of learning and because they are interested in the subject. It may be taken at a local school, college or community hall. It may be pursued in the workplace, or it may be distance learning—with or without the benefit of a tutor or mentor.
Besides the actual learning involved, a whole lot of different benefits flow from it. In Irene’s case, it was the confidence to go on learning and enjoy it, the companionship of other learners, the ability to help her daughter, and the real benefits for her child’s performance, now well documented, that flow from a parent’s involvement with their child’s education. There was the confidence for her to move into a wider community, her involvement as a school governor and becoming chair of the tenants’ group.
It is well known that wider benefits flow from involvement in adult education, and it is now also well researched. Work by Professor Feinstein at the Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning in the Institute of Education here in London has documented the advantages that go with higher levels of education—higher earnings, less unemployment, better health, longer lives, better access to technology, lower crime rates and higher civic participation. Above all, there is greater self-learning and self-confidence, which in turn make people feel that learning is worth while in itself and for itself. In other words, it is positively associated with economic and social well-being, with enabling people more easily to accept and manage change, and with promoting social justice and community cohesion.
It is worth looking at one or two of these areas in greater detail. Take health, for example. We know from research that those who participate in educational activities tend to enjoy better health and live longer. Generally speaking, they smoke less, exercise more, take less medicine and manage their own healthcare better than those who do not participate. This in turn reduces both the medical costs of the elderly and the costs of caring for them. At Tansley House care home in Derbyshire, the use of medication fell by more than 50 per cent when learning activities were introduced.
This is even more true of mental health, where many of those who have problems benefit from a regular commitment that gets them out of the house, provides them with friends to talk to and gives them a sense of self-worth and achievement. In a speech on 3 July, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable, spoke movingly of his mother, who had left school at 15. He said:
“My mother was a housewife and when I was ten she had a major nervous breakdown and spent time in a mental hospital. When she recovered she saved her mind through adult education—learning for the first time about history, literature, philosophy and art”.
Mental health is estimated to cost the nation more than £25 billion. The potential saving is huge.
Finally, I will mention crime. Every prisoner costs us more than £40,000 a year to keep locked up. Some 75 per cent of prisoners are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Giving them the mastery of reading and writing—and, even better, a skill that enhances their chances of employment on leaving prison—in turn reduces the chances of their reoffending. It is reckoned that for every 1 per cent drop in the reoffending rate, the Exchequer could save £130 million.
The Prime Minister summed this up in May in a speech about adult learning. He said:
“Adult learning has a really important role to play in encouraging active citizenship. I’m not just talking about what people learn about specifically, but how that learning makes them feel. Going along to college means meeting people, discussing what’s going on in the world, boosting your belief in what you can do. It’s that self-belief that leads people to get involved with their communities and become more active citizens. Given that my vision for this country is for us all to get involved and play our part in national renewal, I believe adult learning, and the way it inspires people, is crucially important”.
The general thesis of Learning Through Life is that we need to rebalance expenditures on adult education—taking its broad definition—away from the 18 to 24 year -olds and spread it more proportionately. In particular, the twin challenges of demography and technology will require radical changes in our thinking.
I will pose a number of questions—about adult learning and about the changes that are likely over the next few days—to my noble friend, whom I welcome to the Dispatch Box for the first time. How far do the coalition Government look to a more flexible programme that will allow room for greater emphasis on older workers and for reskilling and upskilling through life? In particular, what is happening to the basic skills programme? The basic skills commission has been wound up. Is there still an emphasis on promoting basic literacy and numeracy in the adult population?
Secondly, given the abandonment of Train to Gain, will the Government continue the policy of providing adult education and skills training for a first level 2 for free? Given their emphasis on level 3 and technician training, will the free first level 3 up to the age of 25 continue? What about ESOL? It hardly seems right to put such emphasis on citizenship and contributing to society for those who choose to live in this country if we are not prepared to help them to learn English. I welcome the coalition Government's new emphasis on level 3 apprenticeships and technician training, but how far are they proposing to implement the Banks report and shift funding on to a shared basis between the state, the individual and the employer? Will we see, as with Browne and the universities, a substantial shift of funding on to the individual student? If so, will the new funding arrangements for part-timers announced in the Browne report be applicable to further education as well as higher education? Are the Government prepared to see these programmes applied to those over 50 for reskilling and updating their knowledge? Will the coalition continue the policy, adopted with the apprenticeships Act of 2009, of giving employees the right to ask employers for time off for study? What plans, if any, has the coalition for something akin to the individual learning account or a learning bank, where money which the individual sets aside for training is matched by a government contribution? Finally, what is the position of the safeguarded adult education budget of £210 million? Will adult leisure learning receive any of this?
These are important issues and I hope that the Minister can give us some good news about them all.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the opportunity to debate this vital Question today. In the report, Learning Through Life, to which the noble Baroness referred, Tom Schuller and David Watson start from a premise that we should all endorse—that the right to learn throughout life is a human right. Yet our current system of lifelong learning has failed to respond to the major demographic challenges of an ageing society and to the variety of employment patterns as young people take longer to settle into their jobs and older people take longer to leave theirs.
Furthermore, for a society theoretically supportive of fairness, total expenditure on post-compulsory learning, including by the Government, employers and the third sector, as well as by individuals, is, as the noble Baroness said, heavily skewed towards young people and those who succeed initially, and we know that those who succeed initially are from the most advantageous of families. The £15 billion spent on teaching provision and student support for colleges and universities is weighted heavily in favour of young, full-time students. Currently, part-time students get only one-10th of the support of full-timers. The report of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, is a welcome recognition of this and a move in the right direction, but more is certainly needed.
Participation is very closely related to social class. Basically, the higher up your socio-economic position, the more likely you are to take part in learning. Therefore, our approach should be to tackle the current weaknesses and to put continuing education in the path of late developers, those from disadvantaged social classes, the disabled, ethnic minorities, women and, yes, us older people. We know that an ageing society makes health issues—both physical and mental issues have been mentioned—increasingly important. As has also been said, it has been proven that adult learning promotes good health.
I have to declare an interest as a long-time member, though dreadfully poor attendee, of the council of Ruskin College in Oxford. I should like to say something of the college’s pioneering work, which has led the way for over a century in offering high-quality “second-chance” education to generations of men and women from the less advantaged parts of society. As formal qualifications for entry are not required, the normal barriers to educational institutions therefore do not exist.
Traditionally via trade unions, Ruskin picked up some of the brightest of working-class, early school leavers whose union activity had brought them to the attention of canny union officials. Ruskin then offered them—perhaps by then people of 25 or 40 years of age—the chance of a post-16 education tailored to their experience and needs. Perhaps I may give just three examples of the life-changing nature of adult education, in these cases at Ruskin.
The first is now a successful partner in a law firm but she left school at 16 with few qualifications, enrolled on a hairdressing course in Chesterfield, moved to the production line at a local factory, became a trade union branch secretary, went to that union’s training college, caught the learning bug and went to Ruskin. Although earlier she would not have dreamt of going to university, she went on to get a law degree and thence qualified as a solicitor. So Ruskin offered her a second chance to start her life again.
The second Ruskin graduate, originally from west Yorkshire, did poorly in school exams, probably because nobody diagnosed that she was dyslexic. She did manage to get an RSA typing certificate and worked for an accountancy firm but then stopped working full time to raise her daughter before going back into business. However, rather like in the case of Irene, when her daughter left home for university, she herself packed her bags, jumped on a train before any self-doubts could stop her, and enrolled on a one-year residential course at Ruskin. She said, “I knew money would be tight but I also knew this chance to learn would be my salvation and change my life, and it certainly has”. Ruskin opened a new world for her. She went on to university where she got an honours history degree, then a PhD, and she now teaches at university. Of the opportunity for others to go to Ruskin, she says, “You have nothing to lose and a whole new world to gain”.
Finally, no one will be surprised by my third example—it is our own, my noble friend Lord Prescott, who often says that he owes everything to Ruskin. He had worked for 10 years before as a merchant seaman, went there and afterwards completed his higher education elsewhere. He went into politics, I think, became Deputy Prime Minister, and then came to your Lordships’ House. Not bad for a Ruskin student.
So lifelong learning is just that. It offers both a second chance to those not privileged to enter higher education at 18 and provides return-to-learning opportunities for adults with few or no qualifications. It is also not bad for those of us who did have the privilege of a post-18 education. I myself got that PhD just a little before I received my old-age pension at the age of 60. Lifelong learning is good for students who want to develop themselves but it is also good for society. Educated workers are good for the economy. Many with this life-changing experience also want to put something back into society.
Ruskin and similar institutions change people’s lives but they also enrich society. However, this provision cannot live on fresh air any more than can its students. Adult learning is currently seriously vulnerable in places such as Ruskin, with its vital residential facility, and working men’s colleges. Such institutions do not fit into the mainstream mould but they meet the needs of exactly those who missed out on the normal post-school chances.
The Government threaten to remove family allowances from 16 to 18 year-olds—just the time when working-class children need every incentive to continue their studies and aim at higher education. We heard from Michael Gove yesterday that the Government may cut the all important education maintenance allowances, which have done so much to bridge that gap between compulsory education and university. Lifelong learning should start with the maximum of pre-work education and the Government need to invest in that as much as they do in other parts of the economy.
We as a country then need to plan for and help everyone to learn throughout their lives, enriching all of us as well as society. Public and private resources invested in lifelong learning amount to more than £50 billion. Their distribution should reflect a coherent view of our changing economic and social context, our longer working lives and our increasing life expectancy.
Today’s Question for Short Debate asks of the Government,
“what steps they are taking to support and encourage institutions which seek to promote lifelong learning”.
We await their response with interest.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for initiating this debate, not least because the Church of England has long experience of encouraging and supporting adult education and lifelong learning, which it does not only for its own members but within the wider community. I believe that churches are very well placed, as we look towards the big society, to work in partnership with others in helping to provide learning facilities.
Many noble Lords will know of the work done by the Church Urban Fund over the past 30 years, which has been responsible for numerous projects. Over the past five years, it has included 30 learning and training projects and the development of specific skills with particular groups including the long-term unemployed, asylum seekers and women from particular ethnic groups.
My cathedral of Blackburn has made its own contribution here, mainly through the work of a body that we named Exchange, which, for the time being, is supported by the North-West Development Agency and others. We have been able, among other activities, to provide public dialogue with various communities and people on the margins. We have been able to lay on various exhibitions and to create internships, bringing young people over from Sri Lanka and South Africa. We have also provided lectures and have organised leadership programmes. This work has presented opportunities for participants to reassess inherited or long-held views. Basically, we wanted with Exchange to create a safe space within which people could look at their assumptions and within which the possibility to change could be real. We wanted to answer the questions that people are actually asking.
We viewed lifelong learning not as taking people on a predetermined journey or topping up, but rather as enabling them to ask questions born out of their experience which they needed to ask and to try to equip them to answer them. One course was the awareness course, which encouraged members to examine in depth what globalisation meant to the local community—what it meant in the local context—from a faith perspective. Lifelong learning is surely about creating access to knowledge where people are not able to find the means to access it. With Exchange, the canon of my cathedral, who ran it, the dialogue development officer and the small volunteer team found that time and again people were hitting up against the access and resource question. “We know that there is something in this”, participants would say, “but how do we follow it up? What are the mechanisms in our community for doing so? Where is the material or the network that we can plug into?”.
I am convinced that adult education and lifelong learning offered through the church make a significant contribution to building social and community capital. I must say that we could not have done what we did in Blackburn for nothing. You just cannot make lifelong learning happen for nothing. I fear that it cannot all be done by volunteers, however well meaning. We need trained and professional people who will signpost and guide such learning opportunities, and such people and their work must be adequately resourced.
I have focused on fairly informal but nevertheless well-developed programmes at a local level because I believe they have real value and should provide a way forward. But I have also done this because it seems that there has been a trend over the past decade to channel resources and funding only to courses leading to formally recognised qualifications. Now, certainly it is easier to channel government support and resources through large institutions, and many need the formal qualifications for employment purposes but, please, let us encourage smaller and more local organisations and partnerships to develop further lifelong learning programmes, ensuring that we do not forget the harder-to-reach groups, and that we do not forget those who would not be likely to access more formal educational opportunities.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for this absolutely superb opportunity to participate in this important debate. I think that it reflects all her views and her understanding of the issue.
The benefits of adult learning are researched and well known. Perhaps the best summary is provided by the respected Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning. Its synthesis of research over a number of years suggests that, in addition to economic benefits, learning improves the health of the population as a whole through, for example, the adoption of healthier lifestyles, as other speakers have said. It reduces crime rates and the propensity to engage in anti-social behaviour. It promotes social cohesion, participation, particularly in democratic institutions, and good citizenship. To quote the report directly, it says:
“We have strong evidence that adult education can help to reduce racism, increase civic participation and voting, and improve healthy living. It is, for example, associated with giving up smoking and taking more exercise. Moreover, such benefits are greater for educationally disadvantaged adults”.
Adult learning has a direct impact on these outcomes, and an indirect impact resulting from improved parenting and support for children. In terms of the current policy, adult education can be seen to support a number of objectives which have clear cross-party support and which—I am delighted to say—reflect the policies of the previous Government. It promotes the type of active citizenship needed to underpin the big society. It promotes social mobility, particularly by giving a second chance to those who did not achieve their full potential at school, a subject referred to by my noble friend Lady Hayter in her speech. It promotes employability and combats welfare dependence by giving people both skills and self-confidence.
In preparing my speech today I talked to a number of people including the 157 Group of colleges, of which I am a patron, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I also looked up a recent speech by the Minister with responsibility for skills, John Hayes, who recently spoke of adult learning in terms that would command widespread support across all parties. His approach is very reassuring, as the Labour Government, working with the trade unions, were very committed to lifelong learning, and many feared that the same commitment might not be evident within the coalition Government.
John Hayes highlighted the key issues of adult learning. He said that when parents are engaged in learning, their children are more likely to value education and take an interest in school. Many of us know that from personal experience. He said that it enriches the lives of individuals and the communities of which they are a part. He also very importantly said that it is not a luxury but an essential component of our education system. I trust that in her response the noble Baroness will confirm that view. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I welcome the noble Baroness to her role on the Front Bench. We have worked opposite each other in many other ways.
In order to achieve these benefits, the Government need to put a few things in place. In order to protect schools and universities, they must avoid the risk of disproportionate cuts falling on adult learning. The sector needs to take its share of cuts, but no more than its fair share in relation to other areas of education. The Government need to look at student support, particularly for those who are on low pay and who currently miss out. With the planned fees increases, some FE students will need to take out loans. It is really disappointing that the proposals in the Banks review suggest much less favourable career development loans than those suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Browne. It would be very wrong to introduce a second-class loan scheme for adults in FE. Again, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to assure us that that is not the case.
As individuals and individual employers take on more responsibility for paying for adult learning, we need to remove the restrictions on what can be supported by public funding. That may mean cutting back on intermediary bodies which seek to restrict the qualifications that people can take and, crucially, allowing the Skills Funding Agency to fund units of qualifications and not just whole qualifications. This is an area in which the Semta sector skills council has been heavily involved. I declare an interest in working with that body. The opportunity for bite-sized training can make a huge difference not only to the earning capacity of individuals but also to their confidence.
We must be aware of the temptation to say at a time of restraint that the Government should focus their support more tightly. At a time of restraint, the opposite is true. A one-size-fits-all policy determined in Whitehall cannot meet the variety of needs in adult learning across England. Colleges and adult education institutions need to have the freedom to tailor their provision to their communities. A similar point was made by the right reverend Prelate regarding Blackburn.
There is a need to ensure that the proposals for simplification of FE funding do not just substitute one complex area for another. We need a simplification of the FE landscape, particularly the removal of the plethora of intermediary bodies which seek to regulate and direct the system. The 157 Group has submitted its views to the recent funding consultation, on which I hope that the noble Baroness will also comment. Among the points that it made, it has suggested that the consultation questions on “demand led” are different from what many of us would believe that phrase to mean. To most of us, “demand led” means responding to the choices of individual adults and individual employers, and being informed by good information, but not constrained by the interpretation of its intermediaries.
In preparing my speech for this important debate, as well as speaking to the 157 Group and Semta, I recall my work with unionlearn as well as with individual trade unions, all of which have been committed for many years to the principle of lifelong learning. Reluctantly, however, I have often been at variance with some of the thinking around lifelong learning in that I see a strong relationship between learning skills that will benefit individuals in their employment opportunities and grow them in all aspects of their lives. There are those who think that lifelong learning is not necessarily about skills for work but about the development of the individual. If I learn something new and I am able to apply it, then not only am I a better worker at my job, I am also more confident in my personal life. That is learning for both aspects of life. I find it difficult to separate my acquisition of skills and my ability to grow as an individual. I think that they are one and the same thing.
However we describe lifelong learning, it is something that everyone in this House continues to do through debates as enlightening and informative as this one today.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford for the opportunity to have this debate. I declare an interest as a retired member of staff of the Open University and as a very strong supporter of investment in adult education and lifelong learning. Three weeks ago, the play, “The Pitmen Painters”, opened on Broadway to rave reviews. It had transferred there after many sell-out performances at the National Theatre and at the Live Theatre on Newcastle’s Quayside, where it was first produced. “The Pitmen Painters” is about a group of Ashington miners who studied art appreciation with the Workers’ Educational Association. Written by Lee Hall, the play is based on a true story of how this group of miners took the art world by storm in the 1930s through their paintings, and the WEA in the north-east was part of their story.
A week on Friday, 29 October, will be the centenary of the creation of the WEA in the north-east of England. It has a long and proud history of providing part-time courses and projects in local community venues throughout the north-east, from the Tees Valley to Berwick, to meet the needs of local people. It provides learning opportunities for those who have previously missed out on education and supports people from diverse and disadvantaged neighbourhoods to acquire new skills and encourage them to take a more active role in their communities. With over 1,500 members and over 7,000 enrolments a year, the WEA in the north-east, as elsewhere, is very much part of the big society as it seeks to build social capital from its volunteer and community base.
WEA learners in the north-east are drawn predominantly from the region’s disadvantaged postcode areas. Many are without qualifications or lack them beyond level 2 and beyond. A high percentage of them declare health, physical or learning disabilities and enrolment of ethnic minority learners is higher than the proportion of ethnic minorities in the region’s population. Some 48 per cent live in postcodes that indicate deprivation; 48 per cent do not have to pay fees for economic reasons; 53 per cent have qualifications below level 2 when joining their courses; 38 per cent have a declared physical disability; 17 per cent have a declared learning disability; and 6 per cent are from a declared ethnic minority. Similar figures will be found throughout the country and are clear evidence that the WEA can reach people that other organisations may not be able to. This is because WEA courses can be set up anywhere—in clubs, community centres, village halls, schools, pubs and workplaces.
The WEA is the largest voluntary sector provider of adult education in the country with 12,000 part-time courses reaching over 70,000 people, but it is not the only provider. Some 1.8 million people over the age of 19 study as adults in our colleges, many over the age of 25, and, of course, many more with other providers. In recent years, much of the Government’s funding for education and training for adults has focused on work-related training, such as through Train to Gain, where employers receive a subsidy to train their staff to minimum standards. Colleges were funded only for this training, placing much greater pressure on “non priority” courses that no longer attracted as much public subsidy. The Government need to recognise perhaps more than they do the importance of informal learning for adults which supports active citizenship, community cohesion and social inclusion at the same time as it promotes individual progression. Our colleges are strongly placed to do this, as are our local authorities, our trade unions, our secondary schools and our universities, all of which engage so effectively with the lifelong learning agenda.
In a recent letter to the Deputy Prime Minister, the general secretary of the WEA pointed out the direct community benefit of adult education in improving the mental and physical health of individuals, raising aspirations within families and helping people and communities to adapt to change. With such a strong volunteer base, adult education gives enormous value for money, and in the context of the spending review two things might be considered. First, bureaucracy is a major cost and irritation to part-time adult learners. Exactly the same enrolment processes, regulation and audit apply to an adult on a 30-hour course as to a young person on a full-time qualification. If altered, this could cut administrative costs. Secondly, as a country we spend large sums of money in some areas of training that might be more effectively spent. For example, £737 million is being spent on Train to Gain in this financial year, some of which was described by the National Audit Office in 2009 as providing poor value for money.
The future of adult education as a whole is very important to an educated, cohesive society. It also represents very good value for money, repaying our investment many times over.
My Lords, I should like to start by declaring an interest. My wife, Selina Stewart, is assistant principal at Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College Birmingham with responsibility for adult and community education.
I claim no particular expertise in this field but I have seen the life-enhancing impact that adult education can have on many people. I welcome the initiative of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in introducing the debate. She was particularly persuasive about the positive impact that adult education can have and she posed some pertinent questions to her noble friend, who we all welcome to the Front Bench on her well-deserved appointment.
Adult education is a sector which does not enjoy much attention; it does not enjoy much attention in your Lordships’ House or, I suspect, in the wider confines of Westminster and Whitehall. We know from past experience that when financial cutbacks occur in the educational sector, adult education is often forced to contribute more than its fair share. It is therefore particularly apposite that we should discuss the future of adult education in the context of the spending review and, no doubt more importantly, in the decisions that the noble Baroness’s department will have to make in the revenue envelope with which it will be dealing post tomorrow’s announcements.
Adult education has much to offer and for a Government it is a good investment. The previous Government’s Skills for Life programme, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned, has been marvellous. It has provided free literacy, language and numeracy tuition for adults in England whose skills are below level 2, broadly equivalent to a GCSE at grades A to C. Since 2001 well over 2 million people have taken advantage of the programme and have achieved their first Skills for Life qualification in literacy, language or numeracy. They have improved their life chances considerably, and certainly paved the way for a move into work and improved their job prospects.
A number of noble Lords have referred to research. The National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy published research some two years ago which found that basic skills had a direct impact on the achievement of children and, in particular, that poor basic skills in literacy and numeracy transfer from one generation to the next. Parents’ basic skills have a significantly greater impact on their child’s cognitive ability than other factors such as family structure, household income and parents’ education and socio-economic group. My noble friend Lady Wall pointed to other research which backs up that conclusion.
The part of the Skills for Life initiative to which I want to draw attention is ESOL, English for speakers of other languages. My experience in inner-city Birmingham is that it has had considerable success. We know that lack of English can have a detrimental impact. Examples of it include: individuals who lack the ability to engage with society as a whole; parents who cannot speak to their children’s teachers; an inability to engage effectively with the National Health Service—my noble friend Lady Hayter referred to that; an inability to gain employment, which would get people out of a reliance on benefits; and, of particular concern in areas that I know best, an inability on the part of migrants effectively to interact in the United Kingdom. That point was made forcefully by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.
I shall emphasise three points. First, my understanding is that, in inner-city Birmingham, 73 per cent of women who engage in basic-level ESOL are illiterate in their own language. So teaching them English—speaking, listening, reading and writing—can transform their lives and those of their families. It is the impact on families that is particularly interesting, because substantial research shows that parental input into education is vital in the achievement of their children. If parents cannot speak, read or write English, it undermines their children’s education. Equally, parental support is vital to prevent discipline problems in school. If parents cannot communicate effectively with schools, problems are more likely to occur and less likely to be resolved at an early stage. That can lead to exclusion. Equally, an inability to speak English means that any antisocial or criminal action is less likely to come to the attention of parents. Again, that means that young people are more likely to get into trouble with the police.
Secondly, an inability to speak English makes it much more difficult for patients effectively to seek healthcare. Even making an appointment can be difficult. Discussions with healthcare professionals using interpreters, which comes at great cost to the NHS, or via members of the family—which is often inappropriate particularly if they are the children—makes diagnosis and treatment very difficult.
The third area, and the one about which I am most concerned, is integration. Surely a key aim for our communities is the effective integration of migrants into British society. Unless they can speak English, there is very little chance of that happening and we know that fragmented communities can be the result, leading to tensions and all the other problems that we have seen in some of our cities in the past 20 years.
Incredible progress has been made during the past decade in ensuring that thousands of people speak English and become numerate, literate and IT-literate. I return to the questions posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. It is widely believed that there will be severe cuts in programme budgets for adult education, particularly in relation to level 1 and level 2. This is an important opportunity for us to get through to the Minister the fact that people with a lack of literacy, particularly in English, run a real risk of being denied many life chances. The cuts in basic skills training will condemn thousands of people, be they newly arrived in this country or adults born and bred here who failed at school, to a life of illiteracy, innumeracy and benefit dependency. I know that the Government are looking creatively at the way forward for welfare reform. If ever there was a case for money to be spent upfront, this surely is it.
I end with five questions for the Minister. Can she say how many student places are likely to be lost in the next CSR spending period? How many people will be deprived of the opportunity to improve their English? How many basic skill teachers will lose their jobs? Have the Government calculated the effect of cuts in basic skill provision on health and educational outcomes for the thousands of children of parents who lack level 1 basic skills provision? In essence, how many more children will be condemned to lives in poverty because of cuts in basic skills classes?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I particularly congratulate him and the previous Government on the number of people who qualified under Skills for Life and who will pass those skills on to the next generation.
I want particularly to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for this opportunity, and to look with her and others at the Government’s intentions on general encouragement—and, above all, adequate funding—for all forms of lifelong learning. That is lurking in the background of all we say.
The best news that I heard recently may have been news or may have been rumour. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, whom I warmly congratulate on her new role, will be able to confirm—and I hope will not deny—that higher education, when provided on only a part-time and flexible basis as by the OU and Birkbeck, will not be disadvantaged, as was previously intended, in the allocation of government funds for this level of education. I realise that I am straying into an area that the noble Baroness was not particularly keen to address, but it is the only one that I shall ask about on this occasion. We know that the cost of all forms of educational provision has increased dramatically, and it is within that context that we need to understand the future situation for lifelong learning.
Lifelong learning is clearly vital for today’s citizens, who will certainly be required frequently to retrain and upskill as a routine part of any employment—and equally, if not more so, for today’s unemployed, who may well need new skills if they are to find employment once the job market begins to recover. The estimate of the percentage of the number of employees needed with a level 4 qualification by 2020 was put at 40 per cent when your Lordships discussed the Education and Skills Bill in June 2008. But the importance of accessible and affordable lifelong learning certainly applies to the many adults who, for whatever reasons, missed out on the opportunity that the compulsory years of education should have offered them to maximise their own life chances and earnings, as well as contributing more profitably to the international competitiveness of the UK’s economy. For them, access to affordable and effective further education and training, especially available on a part-time or flexible basis, will be essential. On their behalf, my second question is: how much in this economically crisis-driven world will the necessary upskilling and training cost the individual student who was short-changed during their compulsory education, when the cost was mainly if not wholly the state’s responsibility?
I shall continue in this same theme. The previous Government made remarkable progress for, and certainly deserve our congratulations on, focusing attention on the need to promote the status of apprenticeships, which had previously been in serious decline, as we must all acknowledge. That was a way to secure some of that essential upskilling that the British workforce needed. Further education colleges, universities and employers all joined together to provide the learning needed as well as the work opportunities, much of it part-time. Will this process be continued and, again, how much of the cost will have to be met by the student? Equally relevantly, will there be options to upskill on a part-time/flexible working basis?
Yet it is not just training for jobs by which lifelong learning benefits citizens. It also has considerable attraction for those nearing the retirement age who would like to develop new skills or, for example, take a course enabling them to put the skills learnt during their working life to further use, perhaps by developing a small business. The attractions of lifelong learning are not only for the economically active either. There may be many of this same generation who, now older and retired, would like to study a more widely educational subject such as art or literature. When the previous Government gave priority to the rebirth of apprenticeships one result was, sadly, that local authorities had less to spend on that kind of course, many of which disappeared. Can we please make sure that the Government are going to encourage and support this kind of lifelong learning too?
There is another point to be made about the availability of that kind of activity. We have all heard of people who have worked all their lives, retired with no interests and very soon faded from view, often spending far too many of their final years in care. Keeping people’s interests stimulated with the availability of such courses is surely another illustration, as other noble Lords have mentioned, of “big society” activity. Also, providing such local forms of companionship and stimulation will, one hopes, mean that people stay involved and active, enjoying themselves for longer within their own communities. I hope that that will mean reducing the ultimate cost to the state for end-of-life care.
My Lords, may I take advantage and speak during the gap? I congratulate the noble Baroness on allowing this debate to take place. I was interested when she mentioned Vince Cable; his political education started in Glasgow, as she perhaps knows. He started off as a Labour councillor for Maryhill, not far from where I was a councillor, and was a Co-op party member on the council. If my memory serves me right, we put him in charge of the fairground in Sauchiehall Street—one of our main streets—at Christmas time. We all said, “This councillor’s going to go a long way”.
I say to the right reverend Prelate that the churches should be able to take a great deal of credit for education. I go back to talking about councillors in Glasgow. One of those whom I had in the same ward as me was Councillor Pat Trainer. He was the child of Irish immigrants who could not read nor write, and it was the Bishop of Glasgow of that time who said that the children of Irish immigrants needed education. Pat, because he came from the Gorbals in Glasgow, got the Franciscans to come and teach him. Such was the poverty of that young man that he had to learn his lessons by looking over the shoulder of a fellow pupil, because his family could not afford a writing slate. Pat, who is only a generation away from me, turned out to be a lovely handwriter. He became a full-time trade unionist because of the education that he received, and he was fanatical about education; he fought for primary schools and secondary schools. Whenever a boy or girl was denied a grant to go to university, he was the first up to the education department to see why that grant was not being paid for his young constituent’s education. Pat used to have a saying that if you ceased to learn, you ceased to live, and he would be pleased about the fact at least that our education facilities are far superior to what he had to put up with when he was a young boy.
We should readily acknowledge that the trade union movement—and, yes, the Workers’ Educational Association—have provided first-class facilities throughout the years. As someone who went to school at 15, I know that by the time I became interested in the trade union movement and in Labour Party matters, tackling the grammar of minute-taking and writing letters did not come easy. With a young family, it was ideal for me to be able to go to the night classes that were provided by the TUC in Glasgow. Of course, they were provided not only in Glasgow but throughout the country, and it says a great deal for the trade union movement that not only were they fighting for conditions and wages, they were also fighting for education.
I know that I am due to finish shortly. Consideration should be given to mentoring by retired journeymen and journeywomen going back into the factories. They are more patient with young apprentices, and the young apprentices will respect them when they are given lessons by a person who has all those years of skill behind them.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for ensuring that we debate this issue, as well as all those who have participated. It has been a fascinating debate. I was as inspired as the noble Baroness by Irene’s story. We could all recount similar stories. I am a primary school governor, and I could recount the story of a canteen manageress who has gone from nothing to doing her foundation degree. That just shows the latent talent and potential that are within people.
I want to look at some of the targets that we set ourselves, when I was a member of the previous Government, to tackle the adult skills gap, to increase the number of adults with skills required for employability and progression to higher levels of training and to improve the basic skill levels of 2.5 million adults between the launch of Skills for Life in 2001 and 2010, with a milestone of 1.5 million in 2007. It is interesting, looking at the progress that we made on that, that against the 2001 baseline the latest outturn showed that the 2007 milestone of 1.5 million adults benefiting from improved basic skill levels has already been exceeded, with over 1.7 million learner achievements. That represents really good progress towards the 2010 target. When we talk about those basic skills, we are talking about literacy and numeracy. Without those skills, we know that adults are not going to make progress in employment; indeed, they are going to stunt their life chances.
The participation in Skills for Life courses remains strong. Over 4.7 million people took up over 10.5 million learning opportunities between 2001 and July 2006, and we expect to report that we have exceeded 2 million achievements when we receive the next update from the Learning and Skills Council. There was an interim target of an additional 1 million adults in the workforce to achieve level 2 between 2003 and 2006, and that was reached in 2006. We now have 74.7 per cent of the economically active workforce qualified to at least level 2, which represents approximately 18.2 million adults, compared with 16.1 million adults in 2001. There is, however, a very challenging growth trajectory to 2010, requiring an increase in publicly funded first level 2 achievements from 148,000 in 2005-06 to almost 400,000 in 2009-10.
More than 2 million people have started an apprenticeship since 1997. We have started to tackle the employment prospects of those at the greatest distance from work through new strategies such as valuing employment for people with learning difficulties. I know that the Train to Gain service received some criticism from the NAO; nevertheless we believe that it has been very successful, engaging with more than 143,000 employers and enabling more than 1 million people to start learning programmes at work. The feedback from employers and learners has been very positive, with 71 per cent of those learners achieving success. That does not mean to say that we should not seek improvement, but I hope that we will not denigrate Train to Gain because it achieved an awful lot, especially given that there was a time when two-thirds of our employers were doing no training at all.
A number of noble Lords stressed the importance of the role of trade unions. The Union Learning Fund, which the previous Government introduced in 1998, has a budget of £21.5 million a year to help unions build their contribution to workforce skills development. More than 23,000 trade union learning reps helped more than 220,000 workers into learning last year. Trade unions are often criticised, but sometimes we fail to recognise the vital work that they do. My noble friend Lady Hayter talked about the work of Ruskin College and mentioned John Prescott. Alan Johnson and I, who once headed up the Communication Workers Union, both left school at 15 and owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the trade union education facilities. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for reminding us of the key role of the Workers’ Educational Association, which often provided the tutors for trade union education colleges.
I was looking at the Government’s recent consultation paper, which I welcome, called Skills for Sustainable Growth. It says in a paragraph on funding entitlements:
“Currently there is a legal entitlement for people to receive free tuition for certain basic literacy and numeracy skills, a first full Level 2 qualification and, for people under 25, a first full Level 3 qualification.
We have concerns that the current system of entitlements acts against colleges’ freedom to respond to what employers and learners really want and discourages private investment”.
We paid a lot of attention to ensuring that we responded to what employers told us they needed, such as bite-size courses in management skills, or whatever.
I ought to welcome the Minister to the Front Bench. I am sorry that I did not do it earlier. It is a pleasure for me to do so—well, almost. I would rather be on the government side, for obvious reasons. I would welcome an assurance from her that those legal entitlements for free tuition will be maintained by the Government.
One of the important things that we did was to introduce adult apprenticeships, which have been very successful. They address the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, about the need for workers to reskill and upskill.
As for how one can assist older or more mature workers, I want briefly to address the digital divide. The previous Government realised that ICT courses were clearly important to prevent digital exclusion, making free courses widely available online throughout the UK. More than 2 million people regularly use the centres, supported by funding of around £12 million each year from the Government. At present we are unclear about the extent to which we are meeting the need for basic ICT skills. We have asked my noble friend Lady Morris to review provision in this important area. I hope the Government will look at that review and maintain the funding in that important area.
I was interested in the comment of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn about the networks formed by the church. I would concur with that. Another group that has not been mentioned is the University of the Third Age, which encourages many people to involve themselves in imaginative ways and draws on the vast reservoir of skills and experience that resides in the more mature members of our society. The right reverend Prelate made the point that, yes, of course people volunteer, but we also need some basic investment in these networks. I hope such investment will be maintained. My noble friend Lady Wall talked about the importance of lifelong learning and parental involvement. I am reminded that parents who start out doing a basic task in schools, such as listening to children read, are often inspired to go back into work by becoming teaching assistants. My noble friend Lord Hunt again drew to our attention the importance—if we are serious about community cohesion—of ensuring that people can speak English, and of investment in that area.
We know that we must make cuts in some areas. We never suggested that we would not address the deficit. The difference is in the pace at which we would address them. I hope that the Government will recognise that, in the current climate, investing in adult and further education is an investment for the future. If we do not get it right, we will endanger the recovery. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, in responding, will address the points that several noble Lords and I have raised.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lady Sharp for bringing such an important issue to the attention of the House. It is one that I am proud to address in my maiden outing as government Whip. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness as a tireless and highly effective champion of adult education and lifelong learning. I am also grateful for her valuable contribution to my own adult learning since I arrived in your Lordships’ House. I add my thanks for the welcome to this post from your Lordships.
Adult education is a subject that is dear to my heart. At various points in my life—as a teacher, as an RAF wife, as a volunteer with the citizens advice bureaux and in my work on vocational qualifications with City and Guilds—I have seen for myself how learning, both formal and informal, transforms lives for the better. I regret to say that transformation is an overused term in modern politics but in this sphere, and in light of my own experience, there is none that is more apposite. This debate has already highlighted the rich history of adult education in this country. The literary societies, mechanics’ institutes, religious groups, independent lending libraries, women’s suffrage organisations and, indeed, the trade unions are all part of the movement that gave birth to our universities, FE colleges and adult education services, as well as organisations such as unionlearn, which noble Lords have mentioned, the Workers’ Educational Association, which my noble friend Lord Shipley referred to, City Lit, the Open University and the Women’s Institute. These remain very much part of our society and its learning landscape.
I regret to say that it would be absurd, on the eve of the spending review, to pretend that there will not be decisions in the coming days and weeks that will affect adult education. The scale of the deficit has forced the coalition to make tough choices right across government. We are clear that Britain’s long-term recovery depends on boosting the skills levels of our people. Employers need skilled workers to stay ahead of the competition here and overseas. Individuals need higher-level skills to secure or hang on to a well paid job or to climb the career ladder. However, as so many speakers have pointed out, the learning and skills agenda does not end there. The coalition recognises the importance of learning that motivates those furthest removed from the job market, strengthens family bonds, keeps us mentally and physically active as we get older, helps us deal with life changes or disabilities, encourages us to learn informally with work colleagues and fosters communal bonds through the sharing of interests and passions. These are all experiences, I might add, which restore people’s faith in the joy of learning for its own sake and which, for some, extinguish memories of less than happy school days. Too many of our young people still emerge from compulsory education without the confidence or skills to find learning fun and to make their way in the world.
We also recognise that this kind of learning brings strong economic as well as social benefits. A two-year partnership between a PCT, an adult learning service and the Mental Health Foundation is exploring the use of well-being courses to tackle depression and other mental health difficulties. The Mental Health Foundation evidence shows that these courses are significantly improving participants’ anxiety and depression scores, with results on a par with much more expensive clinical interventions such as antidepressants. My noble friend Lady Sharp referred to NIACE. I pay tribute to that body, which has performed an amazing service to the country since 1921. Recent NIACE research showed amazing results for elderly people in care homes whose physical and mental health showed marked improvements when they had opportunities to learn. The quality of their life improved as they engaged in new and meaningful activities in their later years. They became more independent and less reliant on carers and medication—a real win-win situation.
Another social benefit was encapsulated by Victor Hugo in the words, “Ouvrez une école, vous fermerez une prison”—open a school and you will close a prison. We have often highlighted in your Lordships' House the transformation in the lives of offenders, young and old, who are given the opportunity to learn. Often the need is to acquire basic skills of literacy and numeracy, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, set out, or it could be to learn an occupational skill; but learning which will give them the chance to play a constructive part when they return to society, and in the process feel a sense of self-worth as they rebuild their lives. Amazing schemes in music and drama are available and the organisation Fine Cell Work encourages inmates to create needlework, for which they can earn some money and gain a sense of real achievement in craftsmanship.
Learning, moreover, comes in many shapes and sizes, such as activities funded by government departments or the Big Lottery—many of them in sport or the arts—which are not specifically described as learning, and those offered by charities and voluntary organisations working in community learning. People organise their own knitting circles, gardening clubs, reading groups in their thousands and online communities. I should also mention the wonderful University of the Third Age.
One of the many interesting conclusions of the NIACE inquiry into lifelong learning was that the previous Administration focused too much, and very heavily, on targets. My colleagues in the other place—the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Minister for Further Education and Lifelong Learning—agree with that. They have already said clearly that this Government will not reduce all learning to that which fits utilitarian descriptions, or which can be measured in terms of jobs and qualifications targets. That has been a recurring theme in this evening’s speeches. The right reverend Prelate, my noble friend Lady Sharp and others have mentioned the need to have learning for leisure as well as learning for jobs.
The need to reinvigorate adult and community learning, ensuring that it has pride of place in the big society as well as helping people back into training and employment, is one of the priorities for the Government’s forthcoming skills strategy. As the Minister in the other place has said, this Government see learning not as something that can be carved up into useful and less useful pieces, but as a continuum. We will not be satisfied until and unless every part of that continuum is healthy.
Two recent consultations are consistent with this priority. The first, on how to reform our skills system given the fiscal constraints, received more than 450 responses. The second, on how to tame the bureaucratic jungle which providers currently face, has to date received more than 400, and those responses are still coming in.
I shall now respond to some of the specific points raised by noble Lords. My noble friend Lady Sharp referred to older people learning and their acquisition of new skills to enable them, for instance, to use digital technology. There are schemes such as the Race Online 2012 campaign and the BBC First Click campaign. We recognise the importance of older people continuing to learn and remaining active. I have already mentioned the commitment to ensuring that learning is not purely utilitarian, which the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, mentioned.
On the basic skills entitlement, making reassurances on funding programmes is, as I have said, difficult at this stage, but the Government have undertaken a full consultation to inform the skills strategy and will be taking final decisions on funding and entitlements in the context of the spending review decisions. But within that, we would certainly hope that the ESOL programme and the basic skills programme will get a very heavy measure of support to continue. My noble friend Lady Sharp and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned ESOL, which is a highly valuable programme.
On vocational skills and progression through apprenticeships, I pay tribute to the previous Government for—as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said—what they did for adult apprenticeships and to the increase that they put into the funding and promotion of adult apprenticeships. This Government are no less committed to ensuring that, and have already guaranteed a redeployment of £150 million to fund 50,000 new adult apprenticeship places, which we hope will go some way towards that aim.
I could see the resurgence of Ruskin College from time to time. It has been an amazing pioneer in moving forward learning for people from non-traditional backgrounds and who often missed out the first time around. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on receiving her doctorate just before her pension. One wonders what qualifications she will aim for next. The noble Lord, Lord Young, also mentioned Ruskin College. We have seen the Government’s recent commitment in capital support for the Northern College, Working Men’s College and other initiatives along those lines. There has been a grant of £21.5 million to support the Union Learning Fund and unionlearn, because those organisations have done amazing work, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wall, mentioned. She has been an enormous champion of further education colleges and vocational education—as indeed have so many noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. We would agree with all the benefits that she set out to confirm that funding unionlearn is a very important part of the general mix of money going into training for people in employment.
I have many pieces of paper and very little time to get through them. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn can be congratulated on the remarkable work that he has overseen. We indeed recognise the work of the churches in adult learning. The open spaces movement helps to open up low-cost spaces and we hope that faith groups will use their facilities for that.
We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that the Workers’ Educational Association has extraordinary outreach into disadvantaged communities and that we should reduce red tape and administrative costs, so that more people are enabled to return to learning.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, mentioned the higher education programme, which is outside this particular area, but is important, too. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke about ESOL and adult learning. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Martin, that we need the passionate support for lifelong learning that he described, with such things as night classes and all sorts of other ways in which people may access learning.
I am conscious that almost certainly I have not answered all noble Lords' questions, but I have run out of time. I will just say that we have heard compelling accounts of the ways in which adult and community learning benefit individuals, families, communities and the country. I assure the House that the Government are absolutely committed to this dimension of public life. We are determined to develop a community-wide culture of adult learning as a cornerstone of the big society—a culture that recognises the wider benefits of learning and that prioritises public funding for those people who have had the fewest opportunities and need the most help. It only remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has been incisive, interesting and helpful, and to thank my noble friend Lady Sharp for securing it.
House adjourned at 6.25 pm.