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Lords Chamber

Volume 725: debated on Thursday 10 February 2011

House of Lords

Thursday, 10 February 2011.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Introduction: Baroness Brinton

Sarah Virginia Brinton, having been created Baroness Brinton, of Kenardington in the County of Kent, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Dholakia and Baroness Scott and Needham Market, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Children: Commercialisation


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to meet the aim stated in their equality strategy to tackle the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood.

My Lords, parents are rightly worried about children being pressured into growing up too quickly. The Government have made a commitment to protect children from excessive commercialisation and premature sexualisation, and have asked Mr Reg Bailey, chief executive of the Mothers’ Union, to conduct an independent review and make a full report with recommendations in May 2011.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response, and for the report from Reg Bailey that is to come. I am particularly concerned that an overemphasis simply on sexualisation, as we have seen in a number of recent television programmes, will hide the challenge to commercialisation more generally. Will the Minister tell us whether Her Majesty's Government will follow the recommendation made by the European Parliament to ensure that children are protected from behavioural advertising on the internet, all forms of new media, and mobile phone technology?

My Lords, it is absolutely the case that, alongside the focus on the early sexualisation of children, the Bailey review will look at commercialisation as well. For the European Parliament, as noble Lords will know, the question of regulating the internet and how one controls it is extremely complicated because, although one can take action in one nation state, the nature of the internet means that a host can move to a different jurisdiction and still provide material of the sort of which all noble Lords, I am sure, would disapprove. UKCCIS, the body that was set up following recommendations by Professor Tanya Byron, is looking at these issues and the Government will take those fully into account in considering how to take forward recommendations that are made to us.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that as well as children and young people being protected from the pressures of commercial organisations and the internet, young people also need to develop the skills to resist the pressures of commercialisation and sexualisation? Is this not a good argument for including personal, social and health education in the curriculum?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, will know, the department is carrying out an internal review of PSHE. Perhaps I could speak to her afterwards to work out how I might be able to make sure that my officials can benefit from her expertise in this area. I agree entirely that PSHE is an important area in this regard. One needs to give children as much advice and help as one can. More generally, it seems to me that we have got into an odd situation in society where we have been treating adults a bit too much like children and children a bit too much like adults. The more we can redress that balance, the more we will be able to find a way to tackle some of these pressures on children, in particular to grow up too quickly.

My Lords, I recently heard a child say, “Mummy, I’m having so much fun I never want to grow up”. Does the Minister agree that if all of our children felt happy, self-confident, cared for and safe, they would not want to grow up too soon?

I agree with my noble friend in that regard. There is also the point in all this that government can play a role but that parents can also play an extremely important role. It is important that parents themselves assert the boundaries within which they want their own children to grow up. We had a very good debate last week, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about parenting and early years. One theme that emerged from that was the obvious importance not only of parents demonstrating love towards their children but of boundaries, authority and the framework within which they can grow up.

My Lords, following what the Minister has said about boundaries, should the Government perhaps highlight the importance of some degree of control by parents over what children watch on the internet, particularly with chatrooms? There is a particular danger in allowing children to have a computer with internet access in their bedrooms, so that no one can see what they are actually watching. As the Minister will know, the real danger is of grooming in chatrooms.

It is absolutely the case that there are some systems and filters that enable parents to try to control the flow of some of that material. The Government have been working with the BSI for kitemarked products, so that parents can have confidence that they will work. I agree that the internet and the laptop in the bedroom pose dangers. There is a big generational issue in that parents, by and large—certainly, of my generation—are not fully equipped to know what is going on in the same way that children are. Children are much savvier. The difficulty is in how one keeps up with the pace of technological change and enforces it. There is no simple way of enforcing this. Parents have to know what their children are up to and do what they can to give them guidance.

My Lords, in the investigation that is to take place and which my noble friend described, could he ensure that the abuse of tiny babies, which seems to be reported frighteningly frequently these days, is also looked at under this heading?

That issue is being addressed separately, not as part of this review. I agree that it is important, and the Government, led by my honourable friend Tim Loughton, are looking into those issues.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that while it is obviously important that we protect our children and give them as much information and help as we can, we must also try to avoid giving them the message that everyone is a threat? Among the many things that we have to warn them about, we should also teach them to trust people.

I agree entirely; that was part of my earlier point about treating adults like children and children like adults. Part of what one can do around vetting and barring and making it easier for adults to become involved as volunteers is not to start from the standpoint that they are all potential abusers of children. That is an extremely important part of it. I agree with the noble Baroness.

Does the Minister agree that the market for children’s spending is so lucrative that the media cannot be relied upon to police themselves and that the Government may well have to intervene further on the content of adverts and programmes on television before the 9 pm watershed?

These are important issues, and the Bailey review will look across the piece at all of them, as they are connected. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will know, the Government’s basic approach is to prefer, as a first step, to operate through agreement and self-regulation, but I entirely accept that if that does not work there is always a statutory step as a back-up. All those options are open to Mr Bailey to recommend to the Government.

Trees: Sudden Oak Death


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to counter the spread of sudden oak death in trees.

My Lords, the Forestry Commission and the Food and Environment Research Agency, working in partnership with other organisations, are delivering a five-year programme in England and Wales against Phytophthora ramorum. The Government take this very seriously. Infected Japanese larch is being cleared from 7,920 acres of woodland in an effort to halt the spread of the disease.

I thank the Minister for that reply and praise the work that is being done by the Forestry Commission and the other organisations involved. However, since Phytophthora ramorum jumped species into Japanese larch, is it not now spreading at an alarming rate through commercial plantations, particularly up the west side of Britain, and is this not, indeed, a potentially disastrous position? Are the Government satisfied that the resources that are being put into research, particularly into the nature, behaviour and means of preventing this disease, are sufficient?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the dangers of this disease, which I think was first discovered in viburnam. It then moved to rhododendrons and bilberries, but then, far more alarmingly, it moved into Japanese larch where it is difficult to detect other than from above by use of helicopters. We have put considerable funds into research into it. Defra is funding a five-year £25 million programme against this organism and against Phytophthora kernoviae. We will continue to assess what is happening. At the moment the advice is that the best possible policy is to fell the timber. Some of it is on Forestry Commission estate, some is on private estates. We will continue to do that as appropriate, particularly in the west of England.

My Lords, we recognise it in its early stages by identifying it flying above the woodlands because it seems to appear in the top of the larch when the larch is in needle. As the noble Baroness will know, Japanese larch is deciduous so one can identify this organism only in the summer and spring. However, we have made great progress in identifying possible areas where it occurs and then going into the woods on foot to identify it.

My Lords, it is clear that the Forestry Commission is well aware of the risks associated with not treating or responding to this disease. However, as revealed by the commission in a recent memo to staff, it is equally clear that the Government have not given it funding to deal with it. To use its words:

“There is no capacity to deal with costs of disease or other calamity”.

Why have the Government not allocated money to the Forestry Commission to deal with this very real threat, which the noble Lord has outlined? Furthermore, how do they expect voluntary groups to be able to fund these crucial activities on top of buying forests at market rates?

The noble Baroness is being somewhat misleading. I have made it very clear that we have a £25 million programme over five years to identify ways of dealing with this disease. That is the important matter. As with all plant diseases, it is then a matter for the individual owners, whether they be the Forestry Commission or others, to take appropriate action to fell that timber and sell it on the open market because it still has some value, even if that is depressed. Compensation for felling trees has never been paid, under either this Government or previous Administrations, when a plant disease of this sort occurs, and we will continue with that process. However, we think that the Forestry Commission is perfectly adequately funded to do this. Further, parts of FERA—the plant health division—are actively recruiting extra staff, particularly to identify diseases at airports and other locations, to try to prevent any more diseases of this sort coming into the country.

The south-west is one of the epicentres of this virulent infection, which one expert has said could impact on woodland management and forestry in the same way that FMD did on dairy and beef farming. Will the Minister comment on lessons, both positive and negative, that have been learnt from the way in which Dutch elm disease was handled in the 1970s?

My Lords, obviously we want to learn from that. I appreciate what the right reverend Prelate had to say. The disease is largely in the south-west at the moment and that is where most of the timber is affected. That is why we are trying to clear fell as much as possible not only of Japanese larch but of rhododendrons, which are the sporulating species that are likely to spread this disease. As the right reverend Prelate will be aware, rhododendron grows close to the ground. The Japanese larch, being tall trees, will allow this disease to spread over greater distances. That is why we are moving very fast to get as much as possible of the almost 8,000 acres felled as soon as possible.

My Lords, first it was the elm, then the oak and the horse chestnut. Is there something sinister in all this? Is it climatic and do neighbouring countries suffer from the same diseases in the same breeds of trees?

My Lords, Phytophthora ramorum appeared in this country and on the west coast of the United States at the same time. It is called sudden oak disease because in the United States it is killing off oaks in very large numbers. In this country it has affected five oaks, but it has translated itself from the rhododendron to the Japanese larch, which is a major forestry tree. That is why we are very worried. My noble friend is right to point to a number of other diseases. I refer also to acute oak decline, the oak processionary moth, the red band needle blight, which affects Corsican pine, and the horse chestnut bleeding canker. We are well aware of these dangers and are conducting research into them. We will continue to carry out all the appropriate research that we can. These diseases might result from climate change or a host of other things. The department, the Forestry Commission and FERA will continue to research all possible methods of controlling such diseases.

Democratic Republic of Congo


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the constitutional changes passed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s lower house on 11 January that eliminate a second round of voting in this year’s presidential elections in the Congo.

My Lords, the constitutional amendments appear to have followed proper constitutional procedure. However, we have concerns about the unprecedented speed of the changes and are aware of rumours of irregularities. The UK, together with international partners, continues to stress the need for free and fair elections this November. Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the DRC has raised our concerns with both government and opposition figures following the amendments, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that eliminating the second round skews the election by some 30 per cent in favour of the incumbent president and delays his election pledge to decentralise power from 11 to 26 provinces? In that context, what specifically are the Government doing to help strengthen the participation of civil society across all provinces: for example, in the distribution of voting cards and the compilation of voting registers? What is the Government’s assessment of the security situation in the run-up to the election and the steps needed to avoid a repeat of past pre-election violence?

My Lords, that was a large number of questions. The Government have no view on second-round or single-round elections. I do not think that even the noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours or Lord Rooker, suggested that that was one of the electoral systems that we might like to adopt. We are aware of the real concerns about the election campaign. There has been some harassment of opposition candidates and journalists. We are the largest bilateral donor for the election process. The EU is the largest donor altogether. However, let us not be too idealistic about this; this is a country with a population larger than Britain’s. In a frail security situation, we are trying to register more people than are on the British electoral register. We hope that these elections will be at least as fair as the 2006 elections, but it is not an easy task.

Why are the UN forces likely to be drawn down in May this year, given the acute security situation, especially in the north-east?

My Lords, there will be a negotiation for the renewal of the mandate between the Government of the DRC and the UN. We will support the UN Secretary-General in his view of what is now needed. My understanding is that MONUSCO’s force, which is being reduced from 20,000 to 17,000 troops, is being concentrated on the east of the country, which is the least secure area of the DRC.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a considerable shortfall in the necessary funding for presidential, legislative and provincial elections, and that we should be concerned? Is he aware that the cost is estimated to be $712 million? So far, we have received only $70 million from the European Union, and only $4 million from the United States for election training.

My Lords, one could put a great many forces into the DRC, which is a huge country, and one could spend an enormous amount of funds, although the quality of local administration in some provinces is such that there is a question of how much can be absorbed. The UK is putting a considerable effort in. We are deeply engaged with this process. We want a presidential election that is as fair and effective as possible.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the irony that this acceleration of the constitutional process in the DRC goes hand in hand with the fact that commercially it takes longer to set up a business in the DRC than in any other country on earth?

My Lords, the Minister has just told the House that the Government are concerned about the speed of constitutional change in the Congo. Is he also concerned about the speed of constitutional change in this country?

I am sorry that the noble Lord did not ask whether I was concerned about the speed of constitutional change in reforming the House of Lords, which, he will remember, has so far taken 100 years.

Pope Benedict XVI: State Visit Funding


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the decision was taken to transfer £1.85 million from the overseas development budget to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to pay towards the cost of the state visit by Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010; and who took the decision.

My Lords, Ministers agreed in March 2010 that the costs of the papal visit falling to government should be funded from within the departmental baselines of the six interested departments involved in the planning process. In July 2010, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury set out a formula for the division of costs between departments, giving £1.85 million from DfID against an expected total for all departments of £10 million. In the light of final figures, the cost to DfID will in fact be substantially lower. Its contribution was not part of official development assistance and came out of running costs.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. The sum of £1.85 million was nevertheless transferred from DfID to the FCO for the Pope’s visit—welcome though that visit was. Substantial funds have also been transferred from DfID to finance a loan guarantee for the Government of the Turks and Caicos tax haven. Is it not clear that the much vaunted ring-fence around overseas development already has serious and worrying holes in it? Will the noble Lord now give the House a clear undertaking that the practice of diverting funds that are intended for tackling global poverty to other purposes will stop forthwith?

The noble Baroness is raising questions far beyond the one she put on the Order Paper. She is asking me about what money was paid for His Holiness the Pope’s visit, which was extremely successful. Many people appreciated it, it gave great value and was a boost to our country and our relations with the Holy See. What I have given her is the Answer to her Question, which is that six departments contributed. The money did not come out of overseas aid; it has nothing to do with ring-fencing or non-ring-fencing; it is not associated with our overall target of 0.7 per cent of GDP spending on aid by 2013; and it seems to me that her question is grossly misplaced.

Can my noble friend help a little regarding the £1.85 million? If it did not come from the ring-fenced fund, did it come from money that would normally have been transferred as part of the conflict-prevention pool? Does the use of these funds fall within the conflict-reduction, aid and development remit of the department? Precisely what departmental heading did it come from?

As I tried to explain to the noble Baroness, it came from the running costs of the department. It does have running costs; and costs contributing to this project, along with all the other departments which contributed, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are taken out of the funds that are used for running the department. Other economies might have had to be made in the running of the department, but they are not specified and I cannot give an answer.

Does the noble Lord accept that his reply is misleading to the House? Making a semantic distinction between the running costs of the Department for International Development and official development assistance is quite unacceptable. The administrative costs are there to administer the cost of overseas development, and however welcome was the visit to this country of His Holiness the Pope as a head of state, that can in no way be defined as overseas development.

The noble Lord is usually right in his interventions, but in this case he is dead wrong. The contributions from DfID and other departments all had their good reasons. It so happens that the Government take the view—and, I suspect, the noble Lord takes the view—that the work of the Catholic Church in health and education overseas reinforces and combines with our work in a most valuable way. I hate to hear any suggestion that it should be downgraded as the noble Lord’s question implied.

My Lords, may I have it put on the record that this was nothing to do with the Catholic Church? This was a decision of ministerial departments.

I am not quite sure what the noble Lord is saying. He is right—this was partly a visit by a head of state to Her Majesty the Queen, and a pastoral visit. The money I am talking about related to the heads of state costs incurred by the Government—and rightly so. The Church also made its contribution to other pastoral costs, but I am talking about the Government’s costs.

My Lords, did I hear my noble friend correctly? I think he said that the original allocation decisions were made in March 2010. Am I therefore right in thinking that he is vigorously defending the original decisions of the previous Government?

No. The noble Countess makes a good point; this was a unique visit, as we know, and there has been no basis of comparison with the visits of other heads of state. It was a mixture of a visit by a head of state and a pastoral visit; hundreds of thousands of people were involved and many organisations, including, of course, the Catholic Church.

My Lords, I declare a potential interest as a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I associate myself with the comments of my noble friend Lady Kinnock about the general concerns of ring-fencing, and I am grateful to the Minister for confirming the work of the Roman Catholic Church in relation to international aid—throughout the world, it spends millions of pounds. Is the Minister also aware of the amount of money that was raised by members of the Roman Catholic Church to help to pay for the Pope’s visit?

Yes, I am aware that considerable funds were raised by the Catholic Church and that is a very wonderful thing. I am also aware of the enormously good work that the Catholic Church does, often with the direct involvement of the Holy See, in development and in lifting people out of poverty around the world, and I am very glad to hear the general support of the noble Lord for that work.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a papal knight. Notwithstanding the discussion about which departments paid for the visit, does the Minister agree that it was a great success and gave an uplift to many people, and that the Pope’s visit to this Parliament was a day to remember for all those who attended?

Yes, I agree 100 per cent. I thought that it was a wonderful affair, superbly managed and organised, not least by my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes, and it brought great reassurance and joy to many hundreds of thousands of people. It also improved the reputation of this nation, which, as noble Lords will remember, was questioned by a senior Vatican official before the Pope came. However, afterwards, he had a very different and much better view.

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, we are about to have a debate in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. I have been informed by three noble Lords who had set down their names to speak that for unavoidable reasons they are now unable to take part in the debate. As it is a time-limited debate, the time that they had been allotted may be redistributed. Therefore, all noble Lords who are speaking from the Back Benches in the first debate now have a maximum of six minutes.



Moved by

To call attention to the role of marriage and marriage support in British society 12 years after the report The Funding of Marriage Support by Sir Graham Hart; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, at the outset of this debate I should declare an interest in that I am married—or at least I was when I checked my e-mails first thing this morning.

In many ways, I see this debate as a natural sequel to the debate last Thursday, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to which reference was made at Question Time. I pay tribute to the noble Lord for the way in which he has raised these issues over a number of years in your Lordships’ House.

It is a happy coincidence that the ballot has favoured this debate to take place in National Marriage Week. It was perhaps the most distinguished of 20th-century Archbishops of Canterbury, William Temple, who once said that, if you prayed hard, coincidences might happen.

I say at the outset that, in calling attention to the role of marriage and marriage support in British society, I do not intend any general criticism of those who choose not to marry or of those who, for any reason, are single parents. Nor do I wish to enter the debate over the precise relationship between marriage and civil partnerships or what wider legal protection ought also to exist for those in a variety of relationships outside marriage who have obligations to each other or to their children. These are very important questions but for another day.

Rather, my purpose is to focus upon marriage itself. It is possible to advocate the place and importance of marriage in society in its own right. There has been a tendency in recent years to express indifference over whether or not people marry, as though it is simply a private choice. At one level, of course, it is a private choice, but it is a private choice which the evidence overwhelmingly suggests has public consequences on which any Government cannot merely express indifference.

In recent years, we have often heard the expression “broken Britain”. Statistics never tell the whole story but perhaps I might refer to a few figures from an OECD report published last summer. We have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe and the highest proportion of children in single-parent households —no less than 23 per cent for those under the age of 14, with the percentage being even higher if all children are counted. Notwithstanding the higher rate of teenage pregnancies, the average age at which mothers in the UK have their first child is the highest in Europe, at 30, with all the attendant risks for both mothers and children.

It is in the family courts that the damage is often most visible, and I am pleased to see that some members of the judiciary are willing to sound the alarm bells. In 2009, Mr Justice Coleridge, from the Family Division of the High Court, said that,

“the breakdown of families in this country is on a scale, depth and breadth which few of us could have imagined even a decade ago ... almost all of society’s … ills can be traced directly to the collapse of the family life”.

He also said:

“It is a never ending carnival of human misery”.

Sir Paul Coleridge called for a return to marriage as the “gold standard”, which would mean the arresting of the trend of seeing marriage simply as one arrangement among others to be picked from the human supermarket shelf. In moving this Motion, it is my proposition that this can be done, although I accept that in a free society there will always be those who choose to—or indeed have to—organise their relationships and their children’s nurture in other ways, and who deserve the support of society.

There is now a good deal of research on the impact of relationships, and in particular the relationship of marriage, on the well-being and life satisfaction of those concerned. I am grateful to the Cambridge-based Relationships Foundation for collating the results of a wide range of research projects. The conclusion is clear: while almost any good relationship increases health and happiness, the benefits are disproportionately clear with marriage, with lower levels of psychological illness, greater longevity, better general health, greater wealth and income, lower suicide rates and so forth. Of course, the causality can be assessed in different ways but the overall societal benefit of marriage seems to me to be unarguable.

Equally, the outcomes for children are much better because, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, argued last week, young children flourish best when they feel safe, loved and valued. Marriage is especially conducive to promoting just this, because cohabitees with children are at least twice as likely to break up as married couples.

Certain biological and socioeconomic realities need to be acknowledged here. I understand that young elephants, as an example of a species with a similar lifespan to that of human beings, are able to be independent of their parents much sooner than is the case with human children. A key test for any society will be the quality of the nurture of its children and, for the human species, that puts a premium on encouraging stable, healthy and long relationships among parents. As many noble Lords will know from their personal experience, and indeed their personal cost, children in today’s complex and advanced societies are often dependent on their parents even longer than was the case in the past: the need for stable parenting relationships is even greater today.

It is possible to agree with most of what I have said so far and yet to press the question: why does all this point to marriage? Why could a society not evolve in which the benefits of the marriage bond were enjoyed by those who cohabit on the basis of equally strong private and personal commitments? The difference, it seems to me, lies precisely in the social context in which the vows and promises at the heart of a relationship are expressed. Perhaps I may make an analogy—not an exact analogy but, I think, a helpful one—with war: after all, we are told that all is fair in love and war. Going back to 1939, could the British Government have sent a note to Berlin declaring war but saying that they wanted to review things at Christmas? They could, of course, have reviewed how things were going at Christmas but not as a pre-condition of the declaration of war. You cannot really have a trial war; nor can you really have a trial marriage. I suggest that there is a certain contradiction in terms in both cases. The problem with the current fashion for cohabitation is that it tends to devalue the underlying currency of marriage. There is indeed a sense in which the social institution of marriage is the gold standard for all relationships.

Individual marriages have always failed or become unhealthy. I have no desire to promote an image of marriage as a potential millstone. I have always supported the possibility of divorce and, for that matter, the possibility of marriage in church after divorce. But, equally, giving a certain precedence to supporting the underlying social institution of marriage for the good of society as a whole needs a clearer acknowledgement than has sometimes been the case in recent years.

The role of government here is limited, but nevertheless vital, and I briefly want to point to some practical things that Governments can, and should, do. The first would be to revive the recommendations of the report by Sir Graham Hart, which was commissioned by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. The noble and learned Lord accepted its recommendations. That report built upon the enabling Section 22 of the Family Law Act 1996, which was promoted by the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who expresses his regret that he cannot be present because of attending a funeral in Scotland.

Grants towards marriage support services were made, but seem to have disappeared into a more nebulous grant scheme which does not specifically target or even mention marriage support. The new Government have identified relationship support as a key area, with the Prime Minister, as recently as 10 December, pledging £7.5 million towards that. But the papers for funding applications fail to make any direct reference to marriage. The social institution of marriage will be recovered in our society only if we are bold enough to refer to it in public, and in public policy, as a unique and distinctive bedrock of society. We need to recover the perspective of marriage and relationship support, as set out in the Family Law Act.

I suggest that would support the Government's broader intention to foster a society which moves beyond the dialectic of state or government activity on the one hand to private choices and rights on the other. This requires a sustained recovery of the place of intermediate social institutions, between the state and the individual. Marriage, I submit, is just such a social institution in a way in which relationships could never be. It is a key social institution, arguably the key social institution, and needs to be named more clearly as such in public policy.

If noble Lords, or the Government, are not convinced by my arguments thus far, I would refer to the financial cost of the breakdown of marriage and indeed of cohabitation in today's society. I refer again to the research done by the Relationships Foundation, published in Counting the Cost of Family Failure. The extraordinary figure is offered of more than £40 billion a year. The purely economic case for marriage support services is overwhelming. Those services should include marriage preparation for those who are planning to marry, marriage enrichment for those who are married and marriage guidance counselling for those whose marriages are in difficulty.

I turn finally to a second area where the Government should act and where the Prime Minister, in his first Prime Minister's Questions after the election, stated his own convictions. He said:

“I am an unashamed supporter of families and marriage, and I simply do not understand why, when so many other European countries … recognise marriage in the tax system, we do not”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/6/10; col. 428.]

Apart from the UK, only 18 per cent of OECD citizens live in states that do not recognise marriage in their tax system. Most of that 18 per cent live in Mexico and Turkey. In 2008-09, a single-earner married couple with two children and on the average wage bore a tax burden which was a third greater than the OECD average. The comparative figures for 2009-10 will show a further deterioration. They will be the subject of a seminar I will host in Committee Room 4 on 9 March, at 1 pm. I pay tribute to the work of the charity CARE in sponsoring the associated research and to the wider role which it plays in support of marriage and human flourishing. I declare an interest as an active supporter.

The Conservative Party manifesto at the last election promised the introduction of a transferable allowance for one-earner couples, a promise which is in the coalition agreement. I hope that this can be introduced without delay and I look forward to the Minister's reassurance on this.

I do not believe that people should be offered financial inducements to marry against their will, but I think that public policy on taxation carries a social and moral message, as do all laws, concerning, in this case, the value which society puts on the institution of marriage. In unintended ways, public policy can contribute to a climate which subtly undermines marriage.

I look forward to this debate. I am delighted that so many noble Lords have entered the speakers list, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, who is to make her maiden speech. I have avoided any reference to the religious or theological symbolism of marriage, to which the various religious traditions of our world would bear eloquent witness. Perhaps other Members of your Lordships' House will be bolder than the Bishops’ Bench in such matters. However, with the indulgence of the House, I will end by quoting one of my favourite verses from the Bible, from the second chapter of the Book of Genesis, in the King James version:

“It is not good that the man should be alone”.

My Lords, these days in your Lordships' House we seem to have either feast or famine, filibuster or a 4-minute sprint, although we now have an extra minute or two, thanks to the indulgence of my noble friend the Chief Whip. In my few minutes, I have two points to make in what is a very packed debate which has attracted so many speakers. Like the right reverend Prelate, the whole House and I look forward to the forthcoming maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield.

One of the themes of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester was the need—I think he was speaking to the churches as well as to the secular world—for the churches to be bold in what they say. Over the years, I have had a sense that those in the churches have been very willing to speak to the converted and perhaps rather less willing to enter into the public policy debate about the importance of marriage generally. I happen to be a Roman Catholic, rather than an Anglican, but the Roman Catholics had a good run in the last Question before the debate started. I would encourage both churches and all religions to speak out much more boldly, to borrow the phrase of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, on the importance of marriage.

All that said, there seems to be an odd conspiracy of silence concerning the public promotion of the overwhelming evidence that marriage promotes everything from a decent level of sustained happiness, via helping to accumulate resources and so promoting independence from state help, to apparently reducing depression and slowing down the progress of Alzheimer's disease in later life. All these findings come from peer-reviewed academic journals, such as the British Medical Journal. They do not come from some right-wing think tank which has made it up to support this outdated institution of marriage. The evidence shows variously, through, say, the work of the Prison Reform Trust or the Centre for Social Justice, that young offenders are much less likely to come from married families. It is exactly the same with health.

The excellent and notable University of Exeter family study clearly demonstrated the huge disparity between the lower levels of health problems of those in intact married families and those who are outside them. I shall not go on through each government department looking at their areas of responsibility but, for example, I can find absolutely no evidence in recent decades that argues to the contrary that, for example, children from married homes generally perform better and have better life chances, although I recognise, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, that such statistical generalisations mask heroic individual outcomes to the contrary from those who are not married.

That said, these I think are simple facts not judgments. Politicians and bishops should not be fearful of facts. I increasingly recognise what I think of in public discourse as marriage denial. There undoubtedly is that. Why is it politically and socially correct on the basis of incontrovertible facts to assert loudly that drunken driving is bad, yet people are generally so muted in saying that marriage is a personal and public policy good, based on similarly incontrovertible facts? To me that seems to be daft and to be the reverse of the boldness which the right reverend Prelate was seeking us all to take on.

My second point relates to what the Government should do in the current zeitgeist. They should fearlessly and to the public good promote knowledge of the facts. That cannot be denied, whatever personal views there are about marriage or individual life. Above all else, Governments should not send contradictory messages on marriage, as were sent out, alas, by the Family Law Act 1986, which on the one hand provided for support for marriage services, the subject of the debate in the name of the right reverend Prelate, but, at the same time in the same Bill, introduced what the tabloids accurately, if rather colourfully, called quickie, no-fault divorces—provisions which were, mercifully, repealed very quickly.

Alas, also, to avoid that trap is difficult in the face of the very different views on marriage of the coalition. We all know the dangers of surfing the web. I did a little light Googling on liberal views about marriage, but once I saw what Mr Clegg thought about the institution, I felt that it was best for me to ask my internet provider to block my access to such hard-core material in future. That said, by comparison, I know that I can look to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to continue to say in the clear language that he is so good at that he supports marriage and to encourage those of his Ministers who feel the same way to pump out the facts again and again like hamsters on the oratorical wheel until they are more understood in the intervening years between now, when I believe that critically important expenditure reductions must continue, and when it should surely be possible to spend a bit more on marriage support in future, in exactly the way that the right reverend Prelate asks.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for introducing this timely debate. It is particularly timely, following as it does the debate that we had only last week in your Lordships' House on parenting. Rereading Sir Graham Hart's report, I was struck by the similarity of its conclusions to those of the more recent reports which were referred to in the debate last week.

The 1999 Hart report was prompted by deep concern about the rate of marital breakdown and the damage it causes to couples and their children, to family lives and to society. Sir Graham highlighted the then £5 billion-a-year cost to society of family breakdown and divorce. Alongside the financial costs, he highlighted the huge cost in human misery resulting from marital conflict and breakdown. Similarly, last year's Demos report, mentioned frequently in the debate on parenting last week, focused on the damage caused to families by conflict in couple relationships. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester highlighted, the cost of that damage has risen markedly. It is now estimated by the Relationships Foundation as £41.7 billion or, put another way, a cost of £1,364 a year for every current UK taxpayer.

I take the view, reflected in all those reports, that we need to focus on the importance of supportive loving couple relationships providing support for parents and families, and not restrict ourselves to those couples who are married, but I reinforce the point made by Sir Graham Hart and reflected in the Demos report, which stated:

“Support for couples should be offered before problems arise to prevent breakdown rather than alleviate problems after they start”.

I believe emphatically that, although it is vital to provide support for children, if there is only minimal support for parents, children could, for example, have an excellent session with a counsellor but come back home to find parents being physically, emotionally or verbally violent with each other, or using them as weapons, which largely defeats the good of the help that the children receive.

I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, who I know will have enlightened and passionate words to say on these issues. From my contacts with Relate—which, as noble Lords will be aware, is now the country's largest provider of relationship support—I know that that is its core business. Support for couples is crucial to the support of children. I welcome its campaigning work to put relationship support for children, adults and families at the heart of the social justice agenda.

As Sir Graham Hart recognised, the work of Relate is fundamental in tackling those issues. Any development of family policy must recognise that. I am particularly impressed with the way in which Relate uses volunteers. Sir Graham Hart focused particularly on the essential role played in the field of relationship support by bodies which had traditionally relied heavily on trained volunteers to carry out that vital work. Indeed, I believe that Relate is unique in that there is no difference in the type of clinical work or the training of its volunteers and paid counsellors.

It is the role and expectations we place on those volunteers in today's society which prompts my intervention today. I speak as the former chair and current vice-president of Voluntary Service Overseas, an organisation which has spent the past 50 years harnessing the expertise and enthusiasm of volunteers to transform lives, with localism and partnership the cornerstone of its mission.

A thriving society needs its volunteers. That simple truth is a core element of the Government’s big society, about which we have heard rather a lot in recent days. Noble Lords will know that the comments made earlier this week by Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, the retiring executive director of Community Service Volunteers, about the impact of government cuts on services, have struck a chord with many. Her call for co-ordinated, strategic thinking in providing services echoes Sir Graham Hart's recommendations, accepted and acted on by the then Government 12 years ago. After all, voluntary work does not happen for free—it costs money to run it. How will the Government respond to Dame Elisabeth’s call for the setting of targets for the use of volunteers in public service, particularly in the vital area of family support?

The Prime Minister's announcement last December of £7.5 million-a-year funding for relationship support was indeed welcome news. I am sure that organisations such as Relate, Kids in the Middle and the Tavistock Centre will use it well. We need research into family breakdown, and families need practical support when things go wrong, but the bigger picture—where this fits into strategic thinking, the basis of the big society—remains blurred. Training in this area is crucial, yet there is no longer the infrastructure of the grant for training. How will help be provided in relationship support to train people who act as volunteers? If individuals themselves pay the £6,000 that it costs, how likely is it that they will work as volunteers? If they are to be paid, the cost of service delivery will go up and an invaluable opportunity for dedicated and hugely useful volunteering will be lost.

I referred earlier to the huge cost to this country of relationship breakdown. The previous Government put supporting parents at the heart of their family policy. I hope that the Government will ensure that they reinforce support for services such as those provided by Relate and other parts of the infrastructure for family support, such as Sure Start centres—perhaps making a commitment through the ministerial Childhood and Families Taskforce. I hope that they will spell out clearly how they all fit into the strategic aims of the big society.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for securing this debate and for his eloquent support of marriage. I also say how delighted I am to be speaking in this debate with my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield, who will make her maiden speech.

Before I come to my main point, I make two others. The first concerns education in relation to marriage and relationships in schools, where it all starts. Although an Ofsted survey in 2009 found a great improvement in that area, with the majority of schools making provision within the personal health and social education curriculum that was either good or outstanding, a significant proportion of schools surveyed had inadequate teaching, insufficient time and, consequently, a poor level of understanding of marriage and relationships among their pupils. Much more needs to be done in that area, and I hope that it will be.

The second point concerns cohabiting couples. Sir Nicholas Wall, the President of the Family Division, was widely reported last week as saying he believed that cohabitating couples should have the same rights upon breakdown as married couples. Sir Nicholas was kind enough to speak to me about this last night, and he did not say that. To be fair to the Times, which interviewed him, it was not the Times that misreported him. He merely said that the proposals of the Law Commission in 2007 to give a right to limited relief to cohabiting couples on breaking their relationships should be implemented to right a significant injustice with the present law. It is important, if we are properly to support the institution of marriage, and civil partnerships for that matter, that we give the voluntary long-term commitment to mutual support that is fundamental to marriage the separate and distinct importance that it deserves, leaving those who choose to live together without making that commitment free to do so.

My main point relates to prenuptial agreements. The Supreme Court’s widely reported decision in Radmacher v Granatino has changed English law which previously rejected such agreements. In that case, as is well known, the French husband of a German heiress left investment banking to become a student again. On divorce he claimed a share of her fortune. She relied on a prenuptial agreement. The Supreme Court swept away the old law, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, saying that the courts should in general give effect to a prenuptial agreement if it is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of the implications, unless in the circumstances it would not be fair to do so. He added that the interests of children should not be prejudiced and pointed out that time and unforeseen circumstances may affect the question of fairness.

That decision has been widely welcomed by wealthy families keen to protect their young from those they see as gold diggers. But there is another view. Prenuptial agreements can be oppressive and threaten the long-term fundamental commitment to mutual support involved in marriage that I mentioned earlier. Radmacher had unusual facts and demonstrates the adage that hard cases make bad law—and, I would suggest, the principle that wholesale change is best introduced by Parliament after full and wide debate, rather than by judges necessarily and inevitably concentrating on the facts of the cases before them.

Noble Lords may find profoundly unattractive the notion of a wealthy husband placing the ring on his bride's finger with the time-honoured words, “With all my worldly goods I thee endow”, with the other hand firmly behind his back, fingers crossed, and thinking, “subject to clause 2 of the contract we signed last week by which you get nothing”.

Prenuptial agreements threaten the concepts recently and carefully developed by the courts of fairness, sharing and compensation which have massively helped wives who have given up careers to bring up families and be home-makers, enabling their husbands to go out and earn. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, said in dissent in Radmacher, there is a gender dimension to this issue perhaps not best decided by a court of eight men and one woman. I fear that the decision may lead to an unfair two-tier system: one set of rules for those tough and worldly enough to impose prenuptial agreements on their weaker and more romantic fiancées, and another set for the rest.

The Law Commission has produced a consultation paper following Radmacher and, at the very least, some of the ideas canvassed in its paper should become law: legal advice should be essential; full financial disclosure should be required; the birth of a child should markedly diminish the effect to be given to the agreement; no agreement should be enforced if either party would be left unable to meet his or her reasonable needs; and the longer the marriage the less significant the agreement. These would be important safeguards that might alleviate the dangers. But at the moment this is a dangerous area for marriage, and one on which the law now is left very unsatisfactory.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on initiating this vital debate on the future of marriage in Britain, and I do so for a simple reason. Our children are going to have it very much harder than we did. They are going to find it harder to get a job, harder to buy a home, harder to find security in a world changing almost faster than we can bear. The economy will face ever increasing global challenges. Government expenditure will not be what it was. The competition for almost everything, from university places to jobs, will become ever more intense, and it is almost impossible for us as a society to prepare them in advance for the challenges they are going to face because, in Donald Rumsfeld's phrase, the unknown unknowns are multiplying daily.

There is, though, one thing that we can do. We can try to ensure that as many of our children as possible grow up in strong, stable, supportive families. It is in families that we learn the self-confidence, the trust, the discipline and the resilience that stay with us for the rest of our lives. It is in families that we learn emotional intelligence and the habits of the heart that make for happiness. It is in families that we learn to co-operate with and care for others so that we become responsible shapers of our individual and collective future.

Children lucky enough to be born into strong families are advantaged in almost every area for the rest of their lives: school attendance, educational achievement, getting and keeping a job. They will earn more. They will be healthier. They will be more likely to form strong families of their own. Children who do not have that good fortune will be disadvantaged for the rest their lives.

Strong families—not always, but mostly—need the institution of marriage and only political correctness and the desire to be non-judgmental lead us to deny that fact. It is said that marriage is just a piece of paper. It is not. It is a publicly demonstrated act of commitment. It is said that cohabitation is just as good. It is not. The average cohabiting relationship lasts a mere two years, and even when it leads to marriage, increases the chance of eventual divorce. It is children who pay the price. Britain, which has among the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the world and one of the world’s highest rates of childbirth outside marriage, was found by UNICEF in 2007 to have the unhappiest children in the western world.

I come from a faith and a people that have survived for 4,000 years, often under difficult circumstances, and that still today contribute disproportionately to almost all facets of British life because they made the family their highest joy, the home their citadel, marriage a sacred covenant and parenthood the highest responsibility. If the Jewish experience has anything to say to Britain today it is: recognise marriage, not just cohabitation, as in the best interests of the child. Do so in the tax system. Do so in the educational system. Do so in relationship support. Otherwise, our children will pay the price—financial, educational, medical and psychological—for generations to come. Without stable marriages we will not have strong families, and without strong families we will not have a big society.

My Lords, I share the gratitude to my colleague and right reverend friend the Bishop of Chester for achieving this debate, and for the sharpness, clarity and passion of his opening speech on the need for major support for marriage within our culture. I, too, look forward to the contribution by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and to her passionate reflections and instincts on this theme.

I want to make two points. First, I shall say a bit about what we can learn from marriages in cultures other than our own. We live in a highly individualised society, as has already been explored very effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, who spoke about pre-nuptial agreements. Even, I suggest, within the life of the Christian Church, there is much less emphasis now than once there would have been upon the biblical truth that in marriage the two become one and on what that means for relationships within a marriage and for the way that marriage is seen within our society.

My contacts with Nigeria, Uganda and Sri Lanka, for example, put me in contact with marriages which often seem more secure and joyful than our often overpressurised marriages. It is very easy to be cynical about and critical of different cultures by pointing, for example, to the danger of forced marriages and to the exploitation of women that sometimes occurs in violent marriages—though that is hardly unknown within our own culture. However, in cultures other than our own there is very often support which is established by the wider family and by its place in the context in which marriage is lived. Parents, cousins and aunts provide the background to the marriage which is crucial to support and encourage the love between husband and wife.

We have already had excellent speeches by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, which emphasised and stressed the importance of children within the life of the family and as part of the expression of marriage. I just want to add to that the importance of adult children in helping and encouraging the elderly in their marriages. Those marriages, too, need support and encouragement. In some of those societies, there is also the expectation of more from the marriage of husband and wife and their need for time for each other. In our society, we need not only family-friendly policies but marriage-friendly policies too, so that human beings are given time to develop their relationships and deepen that commitment. It may be that the practices of this House could be reorganised to give us more time to develop those relationships.

We need to defend marriage, not least against those who would misuse it for financial gain. Noble Lords will know of well-publicised cases where Church of England clergy as well as local registrars have been targeted by those arranging sham marriages between European Economic Area nationals and non-EEA nationals in order to gain immigration advantage. To combat this, so far as the church is concerned, we have prepared new guidance from the House of Bishops to help the clergy. The guidance will be sent out when it has been approved by the Immigration Minister and UK Border Agency lawyers. If the Minister could promise to help to speed up that process, I and my colleagues would be delighted.

That said, one must do nothing at all to discourage genuine marriages or to put off those who are seeking it. Marriage is a human right, and we must ensure that it is encouraged and supported. Faith communities have a crucial role in this, and we look forward to working with the Government to achieve those aims.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for securing this debate and introducing it with great passion and eloquence.

I would have liked to speak about the role of marriage and marriage support in general, but I am struck by one absence in the debate as well as in the work that has been done. If one looks at the Hart report, there is virtually nothing about ethnic minorities and their patterns of marriage and matrimonial breakdown. If one looks at the excellent briefing notes provided by the Library, the same absence is very striking. I therefore thought that I would say something about the ways in which this problem is faced within ethnic minority communities.

At one level, ethnic minority communities face the same problems as the rest of society, but there are other areas in which their problems are very different and distinctive and require a great deal of cultural sensibility if they are to be understood in their own terms. The percentage of matrimonial breakdown is much lower in ethnic minority communities and the rate of cohabitation is much lower, as is the rate of divorce. However, the situation is changing. As ethnic minorities are integrating into our society, they are beginning to share some of its weaknesses and mistakes.

If we are to address those problems, we will have to show a great deal of cultural sensibility. That is what I thought multiculturalism was about, and I am sorry that the Prime Minister chose to attack it in his recent rather uneven speech because, ultimately, multiculturalism is an attempt to understand how different communities, historically located in different places and embedded in different conditions, face the same problems and deal with them in their own peculiar ways.

I want to highlight six or seven important problems that ethnic minorities face. The first is forced marriages, which are declining but are still there in very significant numbers. They need to be tackled. If forced marriages are to be tackled effectively, the Government cannot rely on bureaucracy alone but will have to depend on the support of ethnic minority communities. That requires taking ethnic minorities into their confidence.

Secondly, sensitive marriage counselling is absolutely key. When I look at courses on marriage counselling in our colleges and universities, I find that the multicultural dimension is not as fully emphasised or appreciated as it should be. Therefore, we will have to pay some attention to who does the counselling, where it takes place and how the counsellors are trained.

Thirdly, within ethnic minority communities, families have traditionally been joint families. Young couples have been eased into marriage and helped to face the problems of marriage in times of crisis by family elders. In some cases, the elders are here; in some cases, the elders are elsewhere in the countries from which people come or from where women or men have arrived for marriage. I generally find that our visa regulations make it extremely difficult for elders, from the sub-continent in particular, to come here to help out young couples in times of marriage difficulties.

Fourthly, within ethnic minority communities there is a strong network of support. Communities move in at difficult times when they detect the subtle ways in which the marriage is beginning to face problems. I think we have to find some way in which the network of support that ethnic minorities have built up is encouraged, not replaced by bureaucratic methods.

Fifthly in relation to marriage in ethnic minorities, indiscriminate cuts are leading to the closure of all kinds of support networks, especially Sure Start and other mechanisms. Sure Start has played an important role in looking after children and relieving stress that happens to families passing through a difficult crisis. These cuts are going to impact very badly on ethnic minorities as well as on society at large. I very much hope that the Government will rethink the likely consequences of small economies in the long run.

In Asian families, one issue that is not widely noticed is that marital crises occur not only in the first 10 to 15 years of marriage; sometimes, they occur much later in life, when people are in their 60s or even 70s. I was struck by that when I was deputy chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, when these things were constantly brought to our attention. In such families, people get married for all kinds of reasons and perhaps there has been no initial friendship. As a result, during the marriage their children become their bond and, through children, they are able to sustain their relationships. When the children grow up and leave, the two individuals are left facing each other in their two solitudes. No bonds have been built up other than those through their children, who have gone. Grandchildren live miles away and are not able to visit regularly. Therefore, couples in their 60s can begin to drift apart, facing each other in their intense solitude, which leads to domestic violence, mental illness and all kinds of acute problems. When we talk about marriage counselling, let us also bear in mind the problems of elderly couples.

The last issue that I want to raise follows from what I have said so far. Many noble Lords might have been surprised by some of the facts that I have mentioned or some of the problems which I have alerted. This simply goes to show why research into the marital problems of ethnic minorities and the ways of dealing with them is crucial. Whatever research the Government undertake, they must set aside resources for consultation with ethnic minorities.

Finally, on the nature of marriage, I hope that we can make a better case for marriage than that it helps people to avoid Alzheimer’s disease or that it reduces costs to the national budget or whatever. If that is all that marriage does, I do not think it is an institution worth saving. Ultimately, marriage differs from cohabitation in four important respects: it implies mutual commitment; it implies ritualisation of a relationship; it is public, in so far as a public announcement is made; and, finally, it creates a collective unit, which is not simply two individuals together but a single unit encompassing two people. In so far as marriage has these four features, it is better than cohabitation, but one should not make the mistake of thinking that cohabitation is not a viable alternative.

Let us find ways of encouraging marriage and let us recognise the difference between marriage and cohabitation, but let us not turn this into a qualitative, categorical difference, which it is not.

My Lords, it is a huge privilege to address your Lordships' House for the first time in this debate. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on securing such an important topic. However, first, I thank the staff and the officers of this House for their warmest of welcomes. Their help and support has been unstinting and their professionalism of the highest order. My introduction day is one that my family, my guests and I will remember for many a long year, along with the generosity of the welcome that I have received from all sides of the House, not least in today’s debate.

I should also like to extend my heartfelt thanks to my two supporters. My noble friend Lady Barker, a personal friend and a highly respected colleague in the voluntary sector, has acted as my mentor and has been so generous with her time and advice. During my Civil Service days I had the privilege to work for my other supporter, the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, whose reforming zeal for public services is well known. In addition, I pay tribute to those who work tirelessly in charities and the voluntary sector, both volunteers and paid staff, to help the most vulnerable in society. They are so often motivated by their passion for a cause rather than by personal gain. This country benefits enormously from one of the longest established and most diverse voluntary sectors in the world, which we should fight hard to preserve.

As someone who on previous visits to your Lordships' House was confined to the officials’ Box, I know what a challenge the huge wisdom and expertise of this House rightly poses to Whitehall. Today’s debate, which is being held in Marriage Week, is most timely. In 1999, the Hart review looked at the funding of marriage support, but its outcome was called the Advisory Group on Marriage and Relationship Support. This reflected the reality that all relationships between adults are part of the spectrum which includes the institution of marriage. As we know, marriage rates have declined since a peak in the 1970s and divorce rates are low and falling. Of course, the two are connected.

As we have heard, marriage and relationship breakdown is widespread: 45 per cent of marriages end in divorce and one in three children will see their parents split by the time they reach the age of 18. Stepfamilies and cohabitation are commonplace. According to figures in 2009, at least 34,000 couples had entered civil partnerships.

As ever, the reality that lies behind these headlines is more complex. More than 80 per cent of couples today cohabit as a precursor to marriage. In a recent study, it was encouraging and illuminating to find out that 90 per cent of young people in this country said that they aspire to get married. There is also plenty of evidence of the adverse impact of badly handled marriage and relationship breakdown on adults and children, which has been well rehearsed in today’s debate.

I declare an interest as the chief executive of the charity Relate, which fully recognises the reality of modern-day relationships. We are optimistic about the future of marriage as a strong public manifestation of commitment which works well for many people. But from our work with our clients, we know that what matters most is the quality of a relationship, rather than its formal status.

The more that an engaged couple can discuss their attitude to marriage, child-rearing, work-life balance and, indeed, the in-laws, the more prepared they are for the inevitable bumps along the road. Two-thirds of new parents say that contrary to their expectations, their relationship went downhill after the birth of their first child. Divorce is common in the first three years of a child’s life. We believe that forewarned is forearmed and that couples need to be aware of these pressure points, to know what support is out there, and to be encouraged to seek it early before things reach a crisis point.

A Hart report for this decade might usefully investigate how best to incentivise or nudge—to use the trendy term—people into accessing relationship education and support before they commit to a relationship, particularly before they have children, as well as when they start to hit problems. Some people are now using light-touch relationship support—perhaps a befriending or mentoring arrangement—simply to maintain or to strengthen their relationship. It is a bit like taking your car to the garage annually for an MoT or having a regular check-up with the dentist. I should like to see that become the norm.

A new Hart report should also look again at the funding of relationship support both nationally and locally. In this financial year, central government funding for relationship support amounts to £5 million. As we have heard, the Prime Minister has pledged £7.5 million for next year. When compared to the total cost of relationship breakdown for this country—these estimates vary but the estimate from the Centre for Social Justice is £24 billion per year—the case for investment in early intervention is clear.

Here, I must sound a note of warning. As local authorities finalise their budgets over the next few weeks, many local charities, including Relate centres, are facing a grim future. As we all know, so-called discretionary services are always the easiest to cut. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, so eloquently said, highly skilled volunteers of the type that we are so lucky to have in Relate do not come free. They need to be trained and supervised, and there is currently no funding for that.

For me, it is a matter of profound social justice that relationship support is available to all our fellow citizens, particularly the most disadvantaged and those on low income. High-quality relationships—we might call them happy relationships—lead to the best outcomes for adults and children. While not perhaps her most famous quote on the subject, in Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen wrote:

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance”.

To modern-day ears this sounds rather fatalistic. But, today, supporting marriage and relationships should and must mean supporting happy marriages, and making sure that support is there for couples to help them get back on track when they need it most.

The great constitutional historian Walter Bagehot once said that women care 50 times more for a marriage than a ministry. As a former civil servant and as chief executive of Relate, I hope that I can show this House that I care equally about both.

My Lords, it happily falls to me to warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, on her thoughtful and erudite maiden speech. The fact that it was knowledgeable and eloquent was no surprise, bearing in mind that this debate on marriage and marriage support could have been constructed specially for her in her role as chief executive of Relate. But it was a bonus to have her added insights into marriage support. She has worked for 20 years in influential government positions focused on improving the life chances of children and young people and tackling social exclusion. Her knowledge at the policy coal face, devising practical ways of measuring some of the impacts of government policy, will be valuable in this Chamber. We look forward eagerly to hearing her speak often in the future on the topics that she has made her own.

I turn to marriage. I add my thanks to those offered to the right reverend Prelate for raising this topic. I agreed with so much of what he said. The speeches by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester and the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, also really caught my heart.

I love being married. It is so great to find that one special person whom you want to annoy for the rest of your life. That was not my observation unfortunately; it was said by the Jewish American comedienne Rita Rudner. A kindlier quote is from Bernard Shaw, who said:

“Marriage is an alliance entered into by a man who can't sleep with the window shut, and a woman who can't sleep with the window open”.

Is that not true?

We keep stubbing our toe on the awkward issue of how widely government should interpret their responsibilities across matters of personal relationships. We stub our toe on whether cohabiting is okay or whether it has to be marriage. To me, the contract of marriage is entirely justified by its impact on the public purse and the emotional and intellectual growth of children, our society's future.

There is a difference between marriage and civil partnerships on the one hand and cohabiting on the other. The overwhelming majority of young people in Britain want to marry. There is a striking relationship between income and family structure, and a poverty divide between the marrieds and the non-marrieds: it is the divide between the haves and have-nots.

If young people are in stable employment, they will eventually marry. Stable employment, not tax breaks, enables them to marry. Commitment happens when the circumstances are right. Middle-class cohabitees either marry eventually or, in the same way as married couples, split up. Eventually, however, they usually marry. Non-marriage and parental separation in the UK today disproportionately represent the problematic, as opposed to the progressive, elements of family diversity. We misjudge the importance of family structure in undermining our equalities agenda, perpetuating inequality both between the classes and the sexes. A child born to cohabiting parents is nearly twice as likely to see his parents break up before his 16th birthday as a child born to married parents. An unmarried parent is therefore much more likely to become a single parent.

It is all very well being non-judgmental about mothers and children in separated families—it is a worthy aim with which anyone can have sympathy, but, in reality, legitimises irresponsible fathers. So what should we do? First, we must end the situation whereby the benefit system encourages families to live apart or to pretend that they do. It is estimated that 200,000 more people claim support for single parents than in reality live alone. Secondly, all policies around the family should favour equal responsibility between men and women for child-rearing. Even if the relationship ends, the responsibilities towards children do not. Child poverty is strongly connected to the failure of non-resident fathers to contribute financially. I ask the Minister how the Government plan to strengthen the collection of child maintenance and provide a better range of options for separated parents.

Should marriage and relationship counselling be more freely available? Should the Government commit more funds to it? Perhaps because I am a psychiatrist, I am quite sceptical and worried about how we best target that support. Sure Start has faced similar challenges. It has often unfortunately been targeted at well heeled, knowledgeable people. If we need to reach people who do not understand why marriage is so important, we need much better targeted support. We must therefore be very careful before just investing more money in non-fiscal support, even if, as we know, the support that can be given by organisations such as Relate produces remarkably satisfactory outcomes.

I raise finally our discriminatory laws in relation to humanist marriage ceremonies. At the moment, only the religious have the option of a ceremony conducted according to their own religious beliefs without the need for an added civil ceremony. That was not the case when I married in a Catholic church in 1969. Then, all Catholic weddings, as I am sure the Bishops will remember, had to be witnessed also by a superintendent registrar. That has now changed, but not for humanists. Why do the Government not recognise that this discrimination is out of date and change it as we have done for non-Church of England churches? They have put this right for humanists in Scotland. Why not here in England, too?

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for choosing this topic. I am also very pleased to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on her maiden speech. I am sure that we all wish her a long, committed and happy relationship with this House.

I intend to be largely pragmatic and legal, albeit firmly in favour of marriage, female independence and equality. Bearing in mind the national deficit, my proposals are designed to reduce marriage breakdown but not to involve expensive action. The overall cost of family breakdown has been variously estimated at between £24 billion to £40 billion. As a society, we cannot afford serial marriage breakdown and cohabitation on this scale. Ironically, it is being proposed by the Ministry of Justice that at least £350 million be sliced off legal aid, and the people on whom the cuts will fall are those who are adversely and expensively affected by family breakdown. Let us save a few families and save on legal aid. Sadly the planned cuts to legal aid and to support for citizens advice bureaux may make divorce and breakdown even more likely. If legal advice is unaffordable, couples are less likely to get the information that might help at the outset. Mediation has a place, but it also has to be paid for.

It is marriage that makes all the difference, for only 8 per cent of married parents split up before their child is five compared with 43 per cent of the unmarried. According to the Telegraph, in response to a survey conducted in 2008, children under 10 revealed that if they could make a new rule, they would ban divorce. Marital splits were named by the children as the second worst thing in the world after being fat.

But politicians will not talk about it. We live in a nation that is health obsessed and expects its citizens to take care of each other and the environment. There are government messages about obesity, alcohol, drugs, smoking, school food, eating five portions of fruit a day, AIDS, seat belts, exercise and recycling. We are told that we should say no to supermarket bags and use public transport. You cannot take a photograph of a child or drive children to school without being checked. But a parent may abandon their children and pay nothing for them in the future without any such condemnation. The evidence about broken relationships is off limits.

I have some inexpensive proposals. First, we need to make sure that divorce law is not made any easier. Research across 18 European countries indicates that 20 per cent of the increase in divorce rates during the past 40 years is due to legal reforms. Fortunately, the previous Government did not implement the no-fault divorce provisions of the Family Law Act 1996. I propose the introduction of a waiting period to stop divorce being granted as quickly as it is by adding to the present grounds for divorce a provision that no decree shall be granted until at least 12 months have elapsed from the service of the petition. Others have called for a three-month cooling-off period before proceedings can start, in which finances and the impact of divorce could be explored. Marriage education at school should be promoted as strongly as the health and environmental issues that I mentioned.

Secondly, there should be no more legislation equating cohabitation with marriage. Statistics show that the best thing for children is to live with two married parents. The construction of a forced—indeed, illiberal—law of cohabitation may deter even more men from making any commitment, let alone marriage. We ought not to risk adding to the number of one-parent families by tempting men to walk out before they reach the threshold qualifying period for such a law—say, two years—in order to avoid financial liability, because all recent studies show that Britain's children are near the bottom of European leagues for outcomes. Concern for children should keep us from doing anything that would encourage more instability and abandonment. Cohabitants' children are already protected by Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989.

Thirdly, the Government should swiftly enact a law to validate prenuptial contracts. If these were certain to be upheld, it might encourage couples to enter into marriage without the fear of drastic rearrangements and loss of family assets if the end were to come. Opponents of this seem to think that women marry only for money. This is not so. The current law on maintenance is unfair and liable to be used to split family businesses or inheritance, which would not be subject to such orders in most other countries. Financial provision divorce law is in urgent need of reform so that couples will spend less on lawyers and will be able to divide their marital assets with certainty, as happens in many European nations. This would also make savings for legal aid.

Most of all, we need to hear Ministers speak of marriage with as much enthusiasm as they show in discussions about, for example, the environment—and please may we drop the word “partner”, which should be confined to tennis and solicitors' firms, and be less shy about marital status? After all, being married is the most public way that men and women have been able to invent over thousands of years of showing a permanent bond with each other and with their families. There can be no family tree without public recognition and preservation of its roots.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate on securing the debate in National Marriage Week. Whether this is coincidence or spiritual power, at least it gives me the opportunity to say a few words. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on her excellent maiden speech, and look forward to hearing more about her expertise in this field.

While marriage is a private choice for some people, it is not for Muslims. If you can afford it, marriage is compulsory and encouraged. Cohabiting is not allowed. As we have heard, in many other religions and cultures, marriage is also desired and encouraged, as the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, and the right reverend Prelate, said. My noble friend Lord Parekh has expertise in ethnic minority issues and gave his expert advice to the House.

For many of us in the first or second generation, arranged marriages worked well. Unfortunately, however, the divorce rate for arranged marriages, too, is getting higher, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Parekh. In 2001, I was joint chairman of the forced marriage working group. We produced a report called A Choice by Right. Much has been done, but unfortunately some marriages do not work well. A very high percentage of arranged marriages works well in the first, second and third generations. Sometimes we read bad stories in the newspapers. A very small minority of marriages are entered into for economic purposes with partners from overseas who become what I would call domestic servants to young men who might be involved with drugs and alcohol, and whose parents arrange a marriage from abroad because they think that the boy will then involve himself with the marriage. Unfortunately, those marriages have great difficulties.

Ethnic minority communities, and in particular the Muslim community, have in the past sorted out these problems alone; they have never needed help from the state. After 7/7, the Government asked me to chair a working group, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board. We thought we would be dealing with the training of imams to deal with marriage guidance, teenage pregnancies and other challenges of modern British society such as drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and conflict resolution. Unfortunately, MINAB has not gone forward. I would be obliged if the Minister would say whether there is any financial support for MINAB or for any other organisation that helps to support marriages and families in difficult times. We must also target communities with these particular problems.

My final point relates to divorce. When the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, introduced a Bill on divorce in 2000, he asked for a provision to be made available to women of the Jewish faith to apply for a divorce in court to obtain a religious divorce before a decree absolute was given. The provision was also to apply to other religious minorities. Unfortunately, judges are not aware of that. Therefore, when Muslim women or women of other faiths go to the British courts for a divorce, they get a divorce from the court, which is a legal document, but their religious ties are not broken. Therefore, for khula or its equivalent in other religious groups, women have to go abroad and it takes years before they can move on. The man is allowed to move on and remarry because he has his legal divorce, but the woman cannot. Perhaps the Minister will say what guidance is given to judges and courts on this matter.

My Lords, I, like others, congratulate my friend and colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on securing the debate, and thank noble Lords for their excellent contributions, not least the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. As others have said, we look forward to hearing more from her in due course. Naturally, like others, I welcome hugely the opportunity for the House to focus on marriage in National Marriage Week. I will say more about that later.

The particular slant of my words will be on and will connect the instability in relationships and families and its consequences with the evidence for the greater stability that marriage provides. Like other noble Lords, I would encourage us as a culture not to be as shy as we have been to speak of marriage and to emphasise the evidential base that it is right and good. As we acknowledge in the marriage service, it is a gift of God in creation: a gift not just for the couple but for society. We ignore this at our peril.

I give a few statistics. Children are more likely to live in poverty where there is family instability. Women are 40 per cent more likely to enter into poverty after separation. There is likely to be poorer adult physical and mental health. Family instability in one generation makes it more likely, tragically, in the next. Conflict might be a cause of the breakdown of a relationship—whether marriage, cohabitation or civil partnership—but it can also be a consequence of that breakdown. We have already been reminded by several of your Lordships of the huge cost to the national purse—a cost that is not only to be measured in cash terms, but is in cash terms horrendously large.

By contrast, there is huge evidence that marriage makes for more stable relationships and therefore gives a base for our children to be brought up in more stable homes. Currently two-thirds of all first marriages can be expected to last a lifetime. Less than 10 per cent of cohabiting relationships have lasted 10 years. Less than 5 per cent of children whose natural parents are still together when they are 16 will become unmarried parents. Harry Benson’s research, published only two months ago, shows that unmarried families account for 80 per cent of the cases of family breakdown and apparently 86 per cent of the costs. We have been reminded already of the statistics that the parents of children born of married couples are hugely more likely—I was told 10 times more likely—to stay together until their children are 16, compared with just 7 per cent of cohabiting couples, which is a tenth of that figure. The evidence is there and we need to speak of it, encourage it and strengthen it.

There is another aspect of the social dimension of marriage that we pick up in our marriage service. The priest asks the congregation, “Will you, their family and friends do all in your power to uphold them, this couple, in this marriage?”. That is a lovely addition to our service that picks up a profound truth. We all—those of us who are married, as I am—need the friendships, families and encouragement around us for support at critical points.

We have been reminded of the aspiration of young people to be married. That prompts us to ask, “What are the barriers?”. I was at the launch of National Marriage Week two days ago, at which the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the right honourable Iain Duncan Smith, spoke excellently. He was prepared to speak of the couple penalty and say unequivocally that his department will look at changing the benefits system to remove that penalty, which is undoubtedly one of the barriers. Another barrier, which has already been referred to, is the issue of stability prior to a wedding—stability from work and from having a home. We could do so much more to reduce the level of break-up if more guidance was available and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said, available early. Marriage preparation is mostly in the hands of voluntary agencies and particularly in the hands of the church. That, too, is something that we could encourage far more.

In conclusion, 90 per cent of our young people aspire to be married, which is something to celebrate and rejoice in. Let us, therefore, not only help them to be better prepared and support them in it, but do so by making early support available. We should encourage the professionals with whom they have contact to be better able to recognise some of the signs and better able to pass them on for more professional counselling and support when that is needed. I would be grateful for the Minister’s affirmation of the greater resources to be put in for that support—perhaps a higher proportion than our Prime Minister has already offered. For the sake of children, parents and society as a whole, let us be bolder in celebrating, encouraging and delighting in marriage itself.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for securing this debate. I declare an interest as an honorary member of the British Society of Couple Psychotherapists and Counsellors. I especially enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and agree wholeheartedly with her emphasis on the need for good preparation for marriage.

Extensive research has now documented that the breakdown of couple relationships has deleterious effects on the psychological and physical health of the couple, as well as on their children. Children suffer not only from the upheavals of the divorce process but from the impact of turbulent, conflicted marriages. Although divorce has apparently reached a plateau, couples that divorce today do so at an earlier age, with an anticipated 45 per cent of British marriages in 2005—perhaps more now—expected to end in divorce. As fewer couples marry, much relationship breakdown remains unreported.

The right honourable Iain Duncan Smith, in his comments earlier this week as part of National Marriage Week, estimated that the costs of relationship breakdown could be somewhere between £20 billion and £40 billion—rather more than the 1995 estimates of only £5 billion—in health consequences, the impact on children and lost working income. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, alluded to, while the Government have committed support to relationships, they have allocated only £7.5 million per year for marriage support.

I am also very concerned about the lack of financial support for marriage, especially since results from the 2007 adult psychiatric morbidity survey showed that the second most important predictor of mental illness was family debt. A recent international tax comparison by the charity CARE highlighted the fact that among OECD countries Britain is relatively unusual in failing to recognise marriage in the tax system. This has unfortunate effects, including the tax burden on one-earner married couples with two children, who have an average wage a third greater than the OECD average. There is clearly a need for the Government to fulfil their promise to recognise marriage in the tax system. I refer noble Lords to page 30 of the coalition agreement.

Although the consequences of relationship breakdown can be devastating, mental health professionals can now treat relationship breakdown, as well as contribute to its prevention through strengthening couple relationships. When breakdown occurs, mental health professionals can minimise the harm to children, adults and families. Vulnerable periods in the life cycle of a couple can be identified so that targeted interventions can be offered, as was suggested by me and others in the debate about early intervention and parent-infant relationships just last week.

There are also some vulnerable groups of couples in society. Perhaps surprisingly, young marriage and young parenthood are actively discouraged today, with young mothers feeling criticised by first-time mothers old enough to be their grandmothers, despite the biological advantage of young parenthood. They also increasingly have to begin married life without the advantages of support from their extended family.

Another group among whom marriage and parenthood are discouraged are people with learning disabilities—a group that I have worked with for the past 30 years. Research shows that such families do well when there is a reliable and constant supporter, such as a grandmother, social worker or health visitor. These parents may also benefit from relationship support when they have difficulties in sustaining their intimate relationships. However, such relationship support requires rather more specialist skills from the marriage counsellor.

Very little funding has been made available thus far to evaluate the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic interventions, and the lack of an evidence base, relatively speaking, impacts negatively upon the funding situation for organisations that study and treat dysfunctional relationships. What plans do the Government have to provide more research funding to evaluate the effectiveness of support, given the huge cost to society of marriage breakdown? What plans do they have for support in the tax system for married couples?

My Lords, I join in the thanks that have been expressed to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, particularly for the way in which he introduced this debate.

The Relationships Foundation has been mentioned already, and it has set out clearly the benefits of marriage, first to couples, secondly to society, and thirdly to the public purse through the nurturing and launching into the world of children. The trends, however, are obvious: fewer marriages per year, and later marriage. In 2008, 45 per cent of births were outside marriage, and we see rising marriage and family breakdown.

In 1999 the annual cost of the latter was put at £5 million, plus a much higher suicide rate among divorced and separated people. In 2010, Relate put the total direct costs of breakdown at £42 billion, as the right reverend Prelate himself pointed out. That report also pointed to the impact of breakdown on schools. Emotionally damaged children often lose the ability to learn. We also have to take into account the enormous costs of taking children into care. We should reflect on the often unsatisfactory results of the care that those children have received.

I suggest that we are in fact living on the accumulated capital of past long-term stable marriages and families, in which parents cared for children and those children later cared for their ageing parents. In the 1970s the Finer committee reported on one-parent families. Housing associations, in which I happen to be involved, made some limited provision for them. Now the number and proportion of one-parent families has jumped up, sometimes casting a blight on whole neighbourhoods. I suggest that we face a crisis and need to invest in marriage and in longer-term committed relationships of partners to each other and to their children.

I welcome the coalition’s statement on this and the Prime Minister’s offer of £7.5 million per year, starting next year, as my noble friend Lady Hollins mentioned. I question whether this is sufficient in view of the huge costs of family breakdown. The Government should provide help for serious marriage preparation. I had personal experience of this in the 1960s. The Government should also encourage faith and secular groups to provide preparation using trained volunteers. Existing spouses and couples often need quite specialised counselling, and this has been touched upon. The Government should cover the core costs of organisations providing such counselling.

I tentatively suggest that, without being intrusive, the Government and society should encourage informal cohabitants to enter into civil partnerships. Partnerships of this kind would define the duties and rights of the cohabiters. Civil partnerships should not be reserved just for same-sex couples. Heterosexual partnerships would avoid the couple penalty in the benefits system. My suggestions can fit in with current notions of the big society. They could be fleshed out at local level by local support groups for marriage and by family circles for parents, small children and even teenagers. These could help each other, for example, with babysitting, with young people’s discipline and with other practical problems.

Couples should stand alongside single parents. Social clubs, credit unions, holiday schemes and youth organisations all have supporting roles to play. Partnerships between government at all levels and local and voluntary groups are what we need, but far more detailed thought will be required to sustain and improve committed long-term relationships.

It has been said that marriages are made in heaven. I suggest that they also need divine grace to survive. There is, however, a huge amount that all of us can and should do in support of divine grace.

My Lords, it is a relief to have this consensual debate after the turbulence of the past few weeks. I therefore congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on securing this debate. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on showing her own expertise; indeed, one feature of the debate has been the expertise shown by so many Members of your Lordships’ House.

In rising to speak I should perhaps declare an interest as someone who approaches marriage from a Christian perspective, but I also recognise that we have much to learn from those of other faiths, as we have seen from the contribution of the noble Lords, Lord Sacks and Lord Ahmed, and, from the Hindu tradition, of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh.

I have two points: first, that it is in the national interest to promote marriage; and, secondly, that neither Government have done enough to promote marriage and to remove disincentives to it. There is a consensus that marriage is indeed special. At one end of the spectrum it provides the most stable environment for child development, while at the other—this has perhaps not been sufficiently emphasised—it plays a hugely important role in caring for the elderly, where one married partner provides significant care for their sick spouse.

In an age where we are told that how we live does not matter so long as we love and respect each other, there is research evidence that points in the opposite direction. Children need stability, and research suggests that they are more likely to find that where their parents are married than in a cohabiting relationship. Equally, such children are more likely to have stable relationships themselves. I shall not go over the statistics that have been given, but the most recent wave of the Millennium Cohort Study data shows that the risk of breakdown by a child’s fifth birthday was much greater—indeed, four times higher—among unmarried couples than for those who were married. We should also remember that stability begets stability and that the social science evidence clearly demonstrates that the children of married parents are likely to have better health and educational outcomes.

The challenge for government, therefore, is to develop public policy that develops the legal framework to make it easier for marriage to thrive. We fail on two counts. First, we fail as a country. We are one of the few developed countries not to recognise marriage in the tax system. The figures relating to the OECD averages have been given. Therefore we await the coming budget. Good words have been said but we have yet to see those good words translated into practice.

Secondly, we need to support marriage by having adequate marriage support services provision. The benefits of marriage support were recognised by Parliament in 1996 when the Family Law Act was debated. Section 22 of that Act made provision for government funding for organisations promoting marriage support services, and Sir Graham Hart’s report in 1999 suggested that there should be increased levels of funding. In 2004, however, the marriage and relationship support grant was scrapped and replaced by a general family support grant that made no reference to marriage at all. The latest funding round launched in December followed that sad precedent.

The change in policy on relationship support over the years has had a real effect on the ground. I could show your Lordships the directory on marriage support services produced in 1996. Alas, many of the organisations that specifically related to marriage no longer exist. In January 2008, an Answer to a Written Parliamentary Question in another place revealed that Section 22 of the 1996 Act was no longer used. I very much hope that the Government will express a readiness to use Section 22 again to ensure that at least some money is invested unashamedly and instinctively in marriage support. I hope that the Minister can reassure us on that point.

In conclusion, I submit that the well-being of the institution of marriage is in the national interest. It should be reflected in our laws, in our practitioners and in our education system. We should even perhaps give consideration to this; just as in Bills the Minister has to certify that the Bill is in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights, so perhaps in relevant fields such as social policy and taxation there should be a section in which a Minister sets out the likely effects of promoting the stability of marriage. I commend that to the Minister.

My Lords, I also thank the right reverend Prelate for introducing this important debate today in such a timely way. I also congratulate our maiden speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, on her speech. Clearly, as my noble friend Lord Sacks said, this is a very difficult time for many families, and it will become increasingly difficult. The noble Baroness’s expertise will be invaluable in our discussions on this matter. I was concerned to hear that there is a lack of funding for volunteers and their supervisors. I hope the Minister will take that to heart and that we will have a response on that point in correspondence or today.

I wish to concentrate on fathers and sons, but I will make a brief comment on marriage. I have not looked in detail at this issue for some years. I suppose the critics might say that one has to be careful not to confuse cause and effect with simple association. Middle-class families marry and middle-class families are more stable. Looking at the Scandinavian figures for outcomes of couple breakdown, what is interesting to see is that they have fewer breakdowns for both married and unmarried couples. What strikes me is that we must keep this in proportion. Marriage is important, but housing, education and Sure Start, combined together, are much more important. Where there is a good social infrastructure, families thrive, but even there, married couples do better than unmarried couples. This is a fairly superficial analysis, but I hope it might be helpful.

Turning briefly to Sure Start, which the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, mentioned, it would be helpful if the Minister could gather together some of the best practitioners around the country for a conference in Westminster so that local authorities could learn from best practice in children’s centres and ensure in the course of the cuts that are coming that best practice is employed by local authorities and the most effective use is made of the scant resources available.

Returning to the theme of fathers and sons, when speaking to nursery workers I have been struck in the past by their concern that sometimes when there is no father in the family the mother ends up treating her son as a little man—taking him to bed with her, for example. That is an exceptional but very real issue. Moving on to school, I spoke to a deputy head teacher yesterday with responsibility for inclusion in the school —incidentally at a meal hosted by The Place2Be, a mental health charity that works in schools. She was saying that among the issues for her boys growing up without fathers are in an increased chance of poverty, the lack of a clear male role model, and a sense that they are somewhat inferior to their peers who have fathers with whom they can do activities over the weekend. A couple of other issues also concerned her.

If we go beyond that to the care system, I can think of one boy in a children's home whose father was constantly promising to turn up for Christmas and birthdays and always letting him down; or you can visit Feltham young offender institution in the secure estate and talk to prison officers who acknowledge that many of the young men had never had the experience of a father. For them a prison officer can be a father figure.

I visited Cookham Wood young offender institution recently with colleagues. I was pleased to see the recognition that many of the young men there did not experience the joy of having a father. Some of them had experience of the Phoenix programme at this institution. They spoke very positively of this programme in which a black middle-aged man—a very solid man with great gravitas—ran a number of sessions with the young men. He spoke to them about things that their fathers might have spoken to them about such as the need to think about the consequences of their actions before acting. He introduced them to Machiavelli and talked about the fox and the lion and explained that it is sometimes better to use the fox’s way than the lion's way. He also used the technique of showering the boys with words of praise, which the boys really enjoyed. They could enjoy for a minute or two words of praise said by the group around them.

Clearly, anything that can be done to secure strong relationships between parents and enable especially boys to have the experience of an interested father in their lives has to be welcome, and I look forward to the Minister's response to the debate.

My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on securing this debate. I, too, join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, on her insightful maiden speech. She was a lot less controversial in her maiden speech than I was, so I could learn some lessons.

We would do well to heed the challenge and good advice given to us in this wonderful debate by the noble Lord, Lords Sacks, by learning from the Jewish tradition. In the Jewish way, stability of marriage has been the one enduring quality of life that has sustained them. I hope that we will take that to heart and find out how they do it and how it sustains them. Then those lessons could be learnt somewhere else.

Marriage, as we heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, is a gift of God in creation. We should see marriage as a gift and as something to celebrate—something that sustains family life, especially in giving children emotional intelligence as well as creating the habits of the heart, which form us in our responsibility for other people.

I am reminded of children during the Second World War in this country who were evacuated and taken to safe places and to families in which there was stability of marriage. Supposing we had another crisis, are we certain that there are homes to which children of that kind could be evacuated so that they could learn from those families about that stability, that life and that wonderful thing? Marriage for me is a good thing, a place in which security can be created and real love can actually flourish. I was raised in Uganda in a long, extended family—uncles, aunties and grandparents. During vacations as a child, I was sent to spend my holiday time with one of my grandparents. The lessons that I learnt there have sustained me. When I was a parish priest in Tulse Hill, we tried to create for single parents the possibility of extended families to support the children. This is not just about the couple and their two children—they need also the openness of other families around them.

During National Marriage Week, I suggest that as a nation we learn from Jewish people and those who have come from places where there are extended families that actually support marriage. When Margaret and I arrived in this country, we did not have children; since then, we have had them. We did not have the joy of grandparents, uncles and aunties, but we were very fortunate to be in a church life in which our children could have that extension of learning from other people. I suggest that we should explore how we can create these extended families in which marriage can be supported. In the home where I was raised, divorce was unheard of, simply because the uncles, aunties and grandparents always tried to help the marriage along the way. It would be a good thing for us to create the possibility of extended families.

Finally, marriage is a good thing. I hope that we can all celebrate the gift of marriage without giving the impression that those who are not married are less loving and less caring. Nevertheless, if you find a good cure it would be quite selfish not to sell the product and not to tell those who need this wonderful product. In England at this particular moment, marriage is one of those good things that is kept a secret because we dare not offend or sound self-righteous or as if we were pushing other things. I suggest that it is a good offer and that all of us—not just the Government but everyone in the country—should be proud to speak about it and support it.

My Lords, I add my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for calling this important debate. I share an interest with him in the rights and dignity of prisoners, an area in which I know he has been very involved. I need not remind noble Lords of how many of those in our prisons come from backgrounds marked by family breakdown, disadvantage, poverty and the lack of stable and loving relationships. I therefore welcome the opportunity to discuss the role of the state in supporting people to enter into and sustain stable and committed relationships, and in particular how that can strengthen our communities and society as a whole.

Many excellent points have already been made and the quality and interest of the contributions show just how important this debate is. Before I make my own small contribution, I take a brief moment to add my warm welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler of Enfield, and thank her for such an insightful, extremely relevant and clearly purposeful maiden speech. I truly look forward to her future contributions in debates in this House.

We heard last week in our debate on children and parenting how important it is to have stable relationships in our earliest years. It is clear from some of the points raised so far that there is much in common between that debate and the one that we are having today. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford said in his thoughtful and welcome maiden speech, children flourish best in the context of the relationships of stable, loving couples. This is what must be at the forefront of our minds today in discussing marriage and marriage support; it is simply not enough to talk only of marriage.

I am mindful that, notwithstanding the many benefits that have been recognised around marriage, we cannot ignore the fact that in recent decades the proportion of children living in lone-parent families in the UK has steadily increased from 12 per cent in 1981 to 23 per cent in 2008. In addition, divorce and remarriage create stepfamilies, with their own challenges. In 2005, more than 10 per cent of families with dependent children in Great Britain were stepfamilies.

Let us also not forget the growing number of same-sex couples entering into civil partnerships. Indeed, I welcome the Government’s commitment to sustaining support for civil partnerships and, in particular, their intention to allow same-sex couples to register their contracts in religious settings for the first time. It is often overlooked that there are many same-sex couples, especially among lesbian couples, who have children.

A number of noble Lords have raised other issues—of diversity, faith, extended families and age—which must not be ignored. All these issues are summed up by the statement that my friend, the right honourable Harriet Harman, made when discussing these matters. She said:

“Families come in all shapes and sizes. We don't favour one way of family life over another. We want to support and back up all families... Government dictating family structures doesn't work”.

We have to be careful in suggesting that support for one form of loving, stable union between couples should be favoured over another. We must also bear in mind the great many numbers of cohabiting couples who have clearly made a choice not to formalise their union but who nevertheless need support in difficult times.

The danger in focusing support on married couples only, such as with tax breaks, is that we risk not only alienating the many unmarried couples but supporting married couples without children at the expense of families with children, which is clearly unfair. We should focus on the provision of support for people to enable them to enter and maintain stable and long-term relationships. That support must not be solely a matter of fiscal policy—I think that another noble Lord mentioned that—but part of a much wider, co-ordinated approach to tackling the deep-rooted structural inequalities that exist in our society.

That point was recognised by the previous Labour Government, who made families a priority in a way that had never been done before. Issues such as childcare and support for parents were brought into the policy mainstream for the first time. The commitment of the previous Government to support parents and families was also clearly underlined by the establishment and the work of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which took the lead responsibility for these issues.

I am anxious that this Government have shown something of an ambiguous commitment to families, despite making the family an important tenet of the election campaign. For example, the Department for Children, Schools and Families was quickly dispensed with and is once again simply the Department for Education. That ambiguity concerns me because, in the past decade, we have seen fiscal support for families increased significantly. I am sure that none of us would wish to see that lost.

In the 2002 spending review, £25 million was allocated to the Parenting Fund to invest in parenting support. That first round of funding was followed by two more rounds of £14 million and £12 million respectively. In 2008, the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families announced a further £5.1 million of funding for organisations delivering relationship support services and £5.5 million of funding for better co-ordinated local support for separating couples. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, mentioned some of that funding.

The Children’s Plan was published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in 2007. It particularly recognised the significance of the adult couple relationship and one of its components was to ensure that outreach workers from Sure Start children’s centres received training to give them the confidence to support relationships after the birth of a child. However, I am greatly concerned that the tightening economic climate and the increasing limitations on resources mean that these vital services are facing dramatic reductions in funding.

A recent survey by the Daycare Trust and 4Children found that: 250 of the centres are expected to close over the next 12 months; 2,000 such centres will provide a reduced service; 3,100 centres will have a decreased budget; and, at 1,000 centres, staff have already been issued with “at risk of redundancy” notices. The Government’s response has been to establish an early intervention grant, which they believe will give local authorities the freedom to make the best decisions for families in their areas. The Government claim that this grant will support the existing network of children’s centres, but its level is 11 per cent lower than the equivalent funding for the previous year and the protection around children’s centres has been removed in the shake-up of budgets.

It is important for us to understand just how vital these services are to families across the country, particularly the most vulnerable, and what a devastating impact this will have. This was recently made clear to me when I was contacted by the husband in a married couple in my home town of Bradford. Mr Paul Farmer has given me permission to share his letter. In fact, he has asked me that the questions he raises are answered by the Minister. Let me read it out:

“Dear Lord Patel of Bradford,

Let me first introduce myself, my name is Paul, I live in the Buttershaw area of Bradford and I am married with one child and one child due in a few weeks. Both myself and my partner work as civil servants with jobcentre plus and to do this we place our son in nursery 5 days a week.

When Christopher was born 3 years ago my wife experienced quite serious post natal depression. This was alleviated by the health visitors in the area, friends and family and by the local sure start children's centre. Here she met other parents, learnt baby massage (which helped both of them a great deal), received tips, help and sometimes just a shoulder to cry on.

As I stated earlier we are now expecting our second child after losing a previous pregnancy in terrible circumstances. We were looking forward to using the children’s centre, receiving the same help and support, and purchased a buggy so that my wife (who is disabled) could walk to the centre when needed.

Last Saturday we were informed that the centre is to close, the nursery attached (the nursery my son goes to) is to close and all help will be lost.

Reevy Hill children’s centre has been a god send. This has come at the WORST possible time for all of us, Christopher will be unsettled, my wife has support taken away from her and our new baby’s health and well being may suffer as a result.

We were assured that none of this would happen and for it to happen with such little warning is disgusting. Please can you tell us why this has happened and what can be done about it, we are desperate for help and this valuable resource needs to be preserved and built upon, not closed.

Yours sincerely, Paul Farmer”.

I am sure that your Lordships will feel, as I did when I received this letter, that the situation Mr Farmer and his wife find themselves in is both tragic and unnecessary. His letter more than adequately describes a situation being faced by a great many couples, as the full impact of the closure of vital support services is being felt. The impact this is having on ordinary parents and families who are already struggling to cope with job cuts and higher costs of living cannot be underestimated. When we talk about support for relationships, we must realise that this involves all those services that affect families and children, as these things cannot be separated.

The Minister assured us last week that Sure Start children’s centres remain at the heart of the Government’s vision for early intervention. In fact, Sure Start has been widely recognised as a highly valuable service and the Prime Minister himself had promised to protect it and build upon it. Those assurances are greatly welcomed but I remain concerned about the commitment to their practical delivery.

In particular, I ask the Minister three key questions. First, why has the protection around children’s centre funding been removed? Secondly, as the level of the early intervention grant is 11 per cent lower than the equivalent funding for the previous year, how can this Government expect local authorities to have the resources to continue to provide support services to the most vulnerable parents and families? Finally, will the Minister make a commitment to build on the achievements we have seen during the past decade in family policy and provide the support needed to build strong and stable families?

I want to make it clear that the aim of my arguments here, while noting the progress we have undoubtedly made, is to emphasize that there is clearly a lot more to do. A truly integrated and mainstream family approach across the whole range of government departments and local services is still a long way from being realised. We need an integrated approach to support for relationships that embraces all aspects of government policy across areas as diverse as housing, criminal justice, disability, asylum and refugee status and neighbourhood renewal. I also echo particularly the issues that were raised about volunteers and their funding.

In conclusion, I once more thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for introducing this debate and I hope that noble Lords and the Minister will agree with my concerns: that we must approach this on a broader basis, encompassing all support for families and parents—not just those who are married—especially during these difficult and challenging times.

My Lords, like others, I begin by congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester on securing this important debate on the role of marriage and marriage support. It has been an extremely good discussion with interesting suggestions, a number of which I will follow up in writing, if I may. The themes of the debate have emerged fairly clearly and I shall return to those in a moment.

I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield on her excellent maiden speech. I welcome her out of the officials’ Box—a journey which I myself have made. My advice to my noble friend is, “Come on in, the water’s lovely”. Today’s debate comes a week after the excellent debate led by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on the importance of parenting, which has been referred to. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, said, there have been common themes in both debates, of which perhaps the most striking is the benefits to children of being born and brought up in a stable and loving family. That point was made very eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. Strong and stable families are the bedrock of a strong and stable society. They are the key to making sure that children grow up in a loving and nurturing environment and develop into healthy, happy and successful adults. As many noble Lords have pointed out, that makes sense financially, but much more importantly it makes sense socially.

None of this is to say that single parents do not often do a wonderful job bringing up well-adjusted, happy, successful children, nor that a fighting married couple cannot do terrible damage to their children. We all know from our personal experience the dangers of generalisation. We also know—and it has become clear in the debate—that relationships ultimately are not about statistics. We should not have KPIs for marriage, although I am sure that a management consultant somewhere is working on them as we speak. However, we should consider figures of the kind referred to by my noble friend Lord Patten and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, among others.

The Centre for Social Justice has found that those not growing up in a two-parent family are 75 per cent more likely to fail at school, 70 per cent more likely to become addicted to drugs and 50 per cent more likely to have an alcohol problem. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that children from separated families have a higher probability of living in poor housing and developing behavioural problems. Evidence from the Millennium Cohort Study referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, suggests that even the poorest 20 per cent of married couples are more stable than all but the richest 20 per cent of cohabiting couples. Approximately one in three parents cohabiting at the birth of their child will separate before the child is five years old, compared with one in 10 married parents. Those all seem to me compelling facts that we should take into account.

I start from the standpoint that government have to be extremely careful about poking around in people’s private lives, but as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester argued, there is a connection between personal decisions and society as a whole. That is why government have a role in ensuring that there are no penalties to living together, helping people who want to stay together, developing family-friendly policies—as the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, said—and a role, through education, in helping young people to understand the importance of stable relationships.

As has been well explored, the evidence also shows that the strength and stability of adult relationships are vital to the well-being of children. If the relationship is strong, the adults are more likely to support each other through whatever challenges they face. As a result, their children are more likely to succeed. If the relationship is weak and there is a lot of parental conflict, then, sadly, the opposite is true. Indeed, so strong is this link that the quality of parenting is the single most important determinant of the life chances of a child.

Although we need to be realistic and sensible about what is possible and what is within the realms of any of us individually, and the Government in particular, to do, I accept that government can make a positive difference in this area. We need to have a range of practical policies that can have a positive impact on families.

Twelve years ago, Sir Graham Hart recommended that government should raise its level of support to the voluntary sector as a worthwhile use of public funds. At that time, central government spending was some £3 million a year. His arguments for public funding remain as valid today. They are arguments we have listened to and acted upon.

In announcing that annual funding for supporting relationships will increase to £7.5 million a year from April—£5 million more than last year—my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has, I hope, sent a clear signal about the importance we attach to the family and to giving support to people whose relationships are in difficulty. I certainly understand the argument made in the debate about the importance of training and volunteering. I understand that some of that grant can be used for training, but I will follow noble Lords’ points and respond to them specifically.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that while people initially look to families and friends for help with problems they face, when things get more difficult they need more expert advice. When couples are helped through their problems, relationships can be revived and, if not, breakdown can be managed in a way that ensures the best possible outcome for children. That is why we are working with the experts in the voluntary and community sector, including organisations such as Relate, Marriage Care, the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships and One Plus One. Providing them with the resources they need to support relationships strikes me as an effective use of money in these financially straitened times. I also take the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, about the importance of early advice, on which we agree. The £7.5 million will be dedicated to supporting relationships over the next four years to provide a degree of certainty for funding, which I hope will help organisations plan for the future.

Another area where the Government and perhaps the Church can help is in tackling the stigma against seeking relationship advice. Many people feel they cannot seek help because of what others might think; and when they seek that help, it is often too late to save their relationship.

Another area where the Government can act is in reviewing sex education in schools, so that young people learn about the importance of relationships early on. As we are announced in the White Paper, the Importance of Teaching, we will review how schools can be supported to improve the quality of PSHE teaching, including giving teachers the flexibility to use their judgment about how best to deliver it. My department is carrying out an internal review of that. I hope that that picks up on comments of the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames.

I certainly recognise the work of the previous Government in setting up the network of Sure Start children’s centres. I entirely endorse the point of view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, that they can play a key role in supporting families. We have put enough money into the early intervention grant to retain a national network of children’s centres, but I accept the point that he and other noble Lords made in previous debates: that the removal of the ring fence pushes responsibility for those decisions down to a local level, which will lead to difficult decisions for local authorities in prioritising their funding. I agreed with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about the importance of learning from best practice in Sure Start children’s centres and I shall certainly relay that suggestion to my honourable friend the Minister of State for Children and Families.

All the evidence shows that there are particular times in a family’s life that put extra pressure on relationships—for example, when a first child is born. We know that more parents split up in the first years after a child’s birth than at any other time. A Swedish study has shown that couples are almost a third less likely to split up if the father is involved early on. As my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced recently, we will be consulting on a system of more flexible parental leave to enable mothers and fathers to share childcare during that important first year. We are also increasing the number of Sure Start health visitors by 4,200. Crucially, we hope that they will act as a gateway to other services that a family might need, including, if necessary, relationship support.

We are also addressing how best to support adults and children when, regrettably, relationships founder. Our recent child maintenance Green Paper sets out proposals to offer parents more choice and to encourage them to reach family-based arrangements that are collaborative, flexible and based around the welfare of their children. Too many couples break up without fully understanding the consequences for their children and without positive arrangements being put in place to support their children post-separation. We know that children are more likely to prosper and do well in later life when both parents continue to be involved in their lives. Therefore, we want to ensure that parents are encouraged to play a full role in their children’s lives and that co-parenting is the norm post-separation.

One theme that emerged concerned what I think at one point was described as a penalty on marriage. This was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea. It relates both to the tax system generally and the benefits system. It is the case that couples living together and claiming benefits receive less than they would if they each claimed separately. Therefore, it is no surprise that research by the Centre for Social Justice found that a majority of people out of work or in part-time work think that low-earning and unemployed people are better off living apart than as a couple.

The Government are looking hard at how we can reduce the couple penalty in the welfare system. A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed that the universal credit should help to meet our commitment in the coalition agreement to tackle the couple penalty in the tax credit system. Our own analysis suggests that the universal credit will reduce the couple penalty where it will have the greatest impact—among low-earning couples. This is the group under most financial pressure when it comes to a decision on whether to commit to marriage.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, asked specifically about tax. I confirm that the Prime Minister remains committed to looking at recognising marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system. As noble Lords will know, given the current economic situation, the Government’s first priority is to help people on low and middle incomes, but we remain committed to looking at ways to support marriage through the tax system. Proposals on that will be brought forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the appropriate time.

Pre-nuptial agreements were referred to. Speaking for myself, I am a heart rather than a head man, and I certainly had no thought at all of financial considerations when I plunged headlong into marriage. The Government will await the outcome of the Family Justice Review before making any decisions on comprehensive divorce law reform. I listened with great care to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, about the implications for Muslim communities, as well as the comments of my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames about pre-nuptial agreements. The interim report from the Family Justice Review is due out at the end of March and I shall ensure that a copy is laid in the Library of the House. The Family Justice Review will also consider the Supreme Court’s finding on pre-nuptial arrangements and any subsequent recommendations from the Law Commission. The commission itself launched a consultation in January, inviting views on reforming the law on pre-nuptial, post-nuptial and separation agreements. That consultation closes on 11 April.

The question of forced marriage was also raised, with the distinction being properly drawn between forced marriage and arranged marriage. The Government take seriously the need to tackle forced marriage and they also place great emphasis on tackling early child marriage. Measures to tackle it will form part of the Government’s new violence against women and girls strategy, due to be published in the spring. However, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, about the importance of working with ethnic communities on these sensitive issues. The Government have stepped up their efforts to tackle forced marriage in a range of ways: by strengthening legislation; by providing statutory guidance, practice guidelines and online training for professionals; by raising awareness and understanding of the issues, including among children and young people; and by providing one-stop support for individuals through the Forced Marriage Unit.

I was asked by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds whether I could use my influence to speed up the agreement of guidance by immigration Ministers. The Government very much welcome the initiative of the House of Bishops to produce guidance for the clergy to reduce the incidence of marriage to circumvent immigration requirements. I shall certainly raise the issue with the immigration Minister and follow that up.

From today's debate, a very clear theme has emerged of the importance of families and of stability for children growing up. Particularly important is marriage, which, according to statistics, alone seems to demonstrate better results, as regards the environment in which children grow up, than any other form of relationship. I was struck by the summary of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, about the nature of marriage: that it is a mutual commitment; that it forms a ritualisation of a relationship; that it is a public commitment; and that it helps us to form collective units. All noble Lords who have spoken in the debate recognise that.

I also recognise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, that in today's society relationships come in all shapes and sizes and that the key is to support a stable couple relationship whether or not they are married. However, I do not think one should ignore the evidence of the figures about the benefits of marriage—the case for marriage—as enunciated by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York.

I am extremely grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester for securing this important debate, coming as it does during National Marriage Week. It was also particularly timely coming only a week after our debate on parenting. There is broad consensus across the House that we must return to these issues. The Government recognise the strength of the case that has been made today, as was the case last week. On behalf of the Government, I underline our commitment to addressing these issues and to working with a whole range of organisations—religious organisations, the charitable sector and others—to see what further progress we can make in encouraging and supporting the strongest possible families.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. I am delighted that I was able to provide the perfect opportunity for the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, to make such a brilliant maiden speech.

I have closing comments on two areas. The first is that I was struck by the contributions from different religious and racial traditions, from the noble Lords, Lord Sacks, Lord Ahmed and Lord Parekh. One of the enduring contributions which immigration will prove to have made to our society is the recovery of some proper understanding of marriage and family life gained from those different traditions. That is not sufficiently recognised in our public discourse.

As an individual on these Benches, I would not begin to speak for the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, that there should be a completely level playing field for different religious and non-religious traditions in relation to marriage. The Minister did not respond to that point but I express my personal support for that.

The focus of our debate has been on marriage, and rightly so, but I end by emphasising that there must also be proper support for relationships other than marriage. In that sense, at least, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patel, although I thought he still gave some evidence of the nervousness of using the “m” word, which possibly characterised the previous Government. I encourage the present Government to plunge headlong into studying this debate and all that has been said this afternoon.

I have a final comment on cohabitation. It suits men. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, drew attention to that. I have two daughters, one of whom is a successful lawyer here in London and one of whom is qualifying as a doctor. They both had complete equality of opportunity, but it has been on men's terms. They have had to conform to a male world, and our society needs to think deeply about what will genuinely support women in our society. That has been an underlying theme of our debate. On that note, I ask the indulgence of the House to beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.



Moved by

To call attention to the future of NATO and changing relations within its membership; and to move for papers.

My Lords, when I put down my name for this debate and was lucky enough to be drawn in the ballot, I did so in the almost certain knowledge that I would learn far more from it than any knowledge I would give to others. When I saw the list of speakers, I thought that that impression would be confirmed. I am looking at this from the outside in, and there are those with far greater knowledge of the subject.

My initial approach comes as somebody who regards NATO as something of a fixed term in their childhood. I was brought up in a world in which we were divided into two camps. There was our side, NATO, and there was the Warsaw Pact. We stared at each other across Europe with troops facing each other to fight in northern Germany and nuclear weapons in the background. Effectively, we lived quite happily, looking back at it, with a nuclear Armageddon waiting in the background. I say that because we went to school, we went to work, we listened out for the results of football matches with the knowledge that everything could end tomorrow. Indeed, part of the education process and the entertainment industry was telling us that it could all end tomorrow.

It has changed considerably since then. If we have won, someone must have lost; and that would seem to be Russia. The first point of this debate is our relationship with the successor to the Soviet Union, the controlling interest, if you like, in the Warsaw Pact. We must try to get an idea of how it must perceive the world now. If we do not, we cannot start to make a sensible contribution to the debate.

I had a quick look at a map and realised that the Russian Federation, the successor state to the Soviet Union, finds itself surrounded by enemies which are a lot closer to Moscow than they were. The entire western flank is closer to home, and seems to be turned, if you take into account the Baltic states. To the south, there is a series of what someone called the stans, those unstable states which Russia itself acquired only in the mid-19th century, which now seem to be a breeding ground for the more aggressive forms of Islam and which seem more anti-Russia than anything that Russia ever dreamed of from the West. That is a very unstable place.

One of the first things that NATO must address is how we handle the new reality with Russia—how we try to convince Russia that we are not out to encircle and attack it. In the past few years, we have had some worrying rhetoric from both sides. Indeed, both sides seem rather to have revelled in going back to Cold War rhetoric. The classic example is probably the Russian intervention in Georgia, when Russia felt that its interests were deeply threatened by a bellicose Georgian regime. I do not think that that action was right, but, from Russia’s point of view, it might be understandable. There was also the very worrying period when missile defence was first proposed and the Putin regime seemed to think that it was a direct attack on that regime, whereas we were worried predominantly about missiles from Iran. Both situations seem to have calmed down now and stability has been restored. However, normalising the situation is one of NATO’s biggest challenges. But it is not simply a matter of maintaining weapons and guaranteeing the survival of the surrounding states.

My last thought on this subject is that Poland—a former member of the Warsaw Pact, that great bulwark of Russian-led power—is now a member of NATO. The situation has changed dramatically in less than two decades and it is not surprising that a little paranoia remains. Poland became a NATO member in 1999, a comparatively short time ago. We need to have a little understanding of what is going on there.

As part of this process NATO has moved from a position in which it waited to be attacked to one in which it has become a more proactive—interventionist, if you like—force. Most of the articles on Afghanistan that I read in preparing for this debate, looking to plunder the ideas of others on the way forward, suggest that if we were to do it again, we would not do it again in the same way. If NATO is to intervene in other states—and some would argue that it had a better result in the western Balkans—how should we structure it so that we can guarantee it is not thought to be overly aggressive, overly manipulative and interfering, not just in Russia but also in other states around the world? Can this body of which we are a member be a force for stability and good, as we see it, at the same time as it intervenes to impose our values, which some think are not required? The diplomatic framework to resolve the question does not yet seem to exist.

If we are to belong to NATO we must work with the primary and dominant partner, the United States of America. The United States was perhaps the winner at the end of the Cold War, and it was the originator of NATO—an institution which is now more than 60 years old. How does the United States perceive NATO as part of its world policy? Indeed, should it see NATO as part of its world policy? The way in which the other European NATO member states and institutions present themselves to the rest of the world also is a very big question.

There is one model which is not totally dependent on America, regarding it as simply a partner rather than as the dominant partner, and it might provide a way forward—the Anglo-French agreement. The general consensus, or at least the consensus that I have heard, is that these two nations are of a very similar size and power, with similar traditions, interests and histories of world involvement. These two nations have come together to create a force that, with NATO guidance, can be projected into the world outside. We should remember that this combination of 28 states acting together has considerable force. If these two nations are going to take on this role on their own behalf or in conjunction with other forces, as they are both members of the European Union, although the diplomatic direct link of ASEAN is almost impossible because of the slight difference in membership, the fact that they are the two dominant members of NATO and important members of the EU links them whether we like it or not. Whether we decide that they should be formally linked or not, there is a linkage. To deny it is to defy the logic of the situation. The briefing provided stated that if you want to annoy the Eurosceptics, raise the issue of whether that linkage should be formalised, but the fact of the matter is that it is there. NATO and the EU have very similar memberships although they are not identical.

How do these organisations interact with the rest of the world? How can they expand? Is the United States always going to be required to back them up and to provide ground support for the heavy lifting? Is the United States always going to be seen as having an interest in the defence of Europe? I do not think it will because it is understandably looking towards its Pacific coast and its Pacific boundary. Russia has the rising superpower, China, on its southern and south-east borders, and America has it on its south-west border. That will take America’s attention away from Europe. We have to recognise this reality in the structure of NATO and in the command structures within Europe.

I have made notes about the restructuring of the command structure of NATO—I do not know why I bother making notes if I do not refer to them. There are 11 fixed military headquarters and 14 agencies with overlapping responsibilities manned by 13,000 military officers with 300 international committees. A restructuring is going on, but those figures show that it is slightly overdue. Surely there can be a restructuring that will enable us to have a more flexible organisation that will reflect the changes in the membership and in the realities on the ground. This must happen if this organisation is to remain relevant. We cannot always expect America to be there with us on all occasions, even if it should be consulted and be part of the decision-making process. We have got to become more flexible. Europe has got to look after itself. We have to establish better relationships with the great power to the East, Russia. It is no longer a superpower, but it is a great power. We have got to restructure the way things are organised. If we do, NATO has a future. However, if it sits back and quietly blunders around, it does not have as useful a future. The figures I gave about structure and organisation suggest that a body that is more than 60 years old will take time to die. At the moment, it is a prestige institution for the new member states that have joined it. It will not carry on that way for ever, particularly if diplomatic relationships on a state-to-state basis with Russia improve.

I have the following questions for the Government. Where do we think NATO is going? Could the Anglo-French model be replicated among other states in Europe? Should we be bringing other states into that relationship? Should we be bearing more of the load ourselves? These are very big questions. I hope I will hear answers which address them in ways I have not thought of. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate warmly the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing this timely debate on NATO. However, in my experience, almost any day of the past 10 years would have been appropriate for a debate on NATO and the changing world circumstances in which it operates. I do not think that the noble Lord had any need for the caveat at the beginning of his remarks suggesting that perhaps others in this House have more expertise than he does. He has laid before us a groaning table of opportunity for debate and discussion, and has raised the most important issues in relation to NATO in an appealing way.

It is well known that I came to defence and security with very little background in the subject. I still do not consider myself to be an expert. I believe that part of the frustration that many people feel about the direction of travel of our collective security is a consequence of the fact that not enough politicians are brave enough to stand in this complex environment to express their views if they do not believe that they have the background that qualifies them to do so. There has been collectively across Europe an absence of strong political leadership in security and collective defence for too long. I congratulate again the noble Lord on securing this debate because even in this Parliament we spend too little time discussing these important issues.

Before I make my discriminating choices from what the noble Lord has offered, I want to draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, particularly my membership of the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative, which has recently been formed by the Carnegie Institution, and my involvement with the recently incorporated European Leadership Network for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation. In addition, I should like to take the opportunity to express how much I am looking forward with keen anticipation to the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup.

The noble Lord, Lord Flight, is a direct contemporary of mine in terms of membership of the other place. We went in together and left at the same time. On many occasions I have listened from the opposite Benches to his forceful arguments and sometimes his ability to handle issues of controversy with great courtesy. I know that he will be a valuable addition to your Lordships’ House. I look forward to his contribution.

For two years, as Secretary of State for Defence, I benefited from the advice, strategic analysis, leadership and patience of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, as we served together in the particularly demanding environment of operations as we were withdrawing from Iraq and continuing to face the challenges of our engagement in Afghanistan. I do not think that I have ever shared with him the fact that I lived also with a constant reminder of him at home. On the occasions when we appeared together in public or in series in relation to issues, my wife constantly observed that he explained things far better than me. She said that he used a much more analytical fashion, was a much better public speaker than me and that it was time I took some lessons from him. I shall always be indebted to him for that service and I know that he will be a wise and knowledgeable contributor to the work of your Lordships’ House.

I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that our security demands a strategic partnership in NATO, including the United States and Russia. Indeed, I would argue that for the continent we occupy, that strategic partnership needs to stretch beyond that alliance. As well as including Russia, it needs to include others which share this area with us. I agree with him wholeheartedly that that will not be possible unless we follow the advice of Robert Burns and to a large degree see ourselves as others see us. I spend a lot of my time travelling in Europe, particularly to its extremes, trying to understand countries’ views of their security challenges and of the security blanket and comfort zone in which we live. He is right to suggest that we need to understand the way in which other people’s minds work. Recently, I have been doing that intensively in Turkey. It is deeply instructive, even to someone who has done the jobs that I have done.

My most recent experience comes from listening to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak very wisely at the Munich Security Conference at the weekend. I am not sure that the noble Lord is right in his fear that the United States is turning its back on Europe, but he is right to suggest that the United States, for the very reasons that he articulates for other countries—that is, their geopolitical environment—is in a much more complex part of the world than us. However, for no reason other than the news this morning of the latest activity of pirates in the Indian Ocean, he and others should realise that we all live in the same world and that what is going on at the borders to which he referred, on the western side of the United States, influences us as well. My sense is that this Administration, those who are advising them, the United States high command and those in the analytical and security environment in Washington and across the United States know and understand this better than do we in this country and that they have no intention of turning their back on Europe. Indeed, their engagement with Europe is a function of our willingness to engage with them. My experience of NATO was that we sometimes sat back too much, waiting for the United States to give us the lead and tell us what we should think rather than our telling it what we wanted—to which it would be responsive.

At their April 2009 summit, NATO heads of state and Governments tasked Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the organisation's Secretary-General, to define the alliance's role and mission for the 21st century in a new strategic concept. In Lisbon, in response, he produced such a concept and the alliance approved it.

However, as the Secretary-General and, indeed, your Lordships' House know, agreement on a form of words is not the same as securing NATO's real relevance to the security challenges that we face in the 21st century. To be a success in practice, the new concept needs to address challenges far different from those faced at the time of the alliance's formation, while protecting the founding ideas of collective defence, the transatlantic link and burden-sharing. Whatever frustrations we may have with this alliance, if we did not have it, we would have to invent it. It is crucial to our security, and we should not talk it out existence because of frustrations which we should try collectively to challenge.

The task which Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the summit have set the alliance is far from easy, but it is vital, and nowhere is it more needed than in the area of NATO nuclear policy. For months now—indeed, for about a year—a debate on the future of US theatre nuclear weapons stationed in Europe has been occurring around, but outside, formal NATO review processes. Stationed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey as part of the US nuclear umbrella which has extended over Europe, these weapons originally had a specific military purpose. With a short, “tactical” range and the majority unable to reach beyond mainland Europe, they were deployed to deter a physical invasion of western Europe by the then numerically superior conventional forces possessed by the Soviet Union at the time of the Cold War. Now, however, the weapons have declined to the point where I cannot find a military commander who says that they have any military utility. Moreover, the future costs associated with replacing the ageing aircraft that would deliver them are unlikely to be met by Europe’s Governments, who are all in some financial difficulty.

More must be done to promote multilateral nuclear disarmament, and this is an opportunity to do that. Others in the alliance are worried that if one or two countries renounce nuclear weapons unilaterally, not only will the principle of nuclear burden-sharing between the US and Europe be compromised, but so too will the transatlantic link and the overall quality of collective defence commitments within NATO. This is an opportunity for NATO to do exactly what the noble Lord suggested: to have a debate among its members on the utility and purpose of nuclear weapons, and to come to a conclusion that will make a significant difference to the collective security not just of Europe but of the world, by contributing to disarmament and reducing the role of nuclear weapons in it.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the officers of the House for their great courtesy and assistance to new boys such as me. Secondly, I thank Members on all sides for their very warm welcome. It strikes me that this is indeed the better, more civilised House, where climbing the slippery pole is pleasantly behind us all. I am honoured to have friends on all sides of the House. This is one of the few places in our country where there is sensible respect for age, experience and knowledge, even though everyone looks incredibly young for their years. I am very honoured to be a Member of the House; it is a great institution.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for his kind comments and, with your Lordship’s indulgence, will say a little about India today; I call it the second love of my life after my wife. In discussing defence, one needs to think out of the box. As India becomes a major power and economy in the world, I hope that it will become a key ally of this country, for reasons that I will speak about. India has 1 million well trained men at arms. In thinking about future defence needs, one should think about her role as she takes her place in the world. Surely there is at least a potential peacekeeping role that would be appropriate. I am naughtily using defence as an excuse to talk about India, but it is quite a big angle.

I was very pleased when the Prime Minister made his first visit to India. My associations with India go back to my days as a student, when I studied British India history and had the good fortune to work there in the second part of the 1970s. I made a group of friends who have remained close throughout my life and acted as guardian to some of their children when they came here to go to university. I am powerfully struck by the close affinity between our two countries; we are very much the eastern and western version of extraordinarily similar cultures. The previous debate, and that on the family last week, showed that India has a great deal to teach us. I also observe that through history, most British people who spent their careers in India grew to love the country and its people. Many noble Lords may have read the wonderful books by Dalrymple, particularly on the relationship between Britain and the Mughals in the 18th century. I asked Garter at my introduction ceremony where his magnificent new jacket had been made and was amused to be told that it was in India, and that it was significantly cheaper to have made there than in this country.

Some years ago, I was involved in establishing a medical facility in one of the major Indian slums. I observed, first, that inside what looked like a grim place were wonderful family units and little houses that were clean as a whistle. The upward mobility among that community was greater than I have witnessed anywhere in the world; it was a wonderful thing to experience.

On another occasion I took my daughter around Agra with a very nice young Indian as a guide. He asked me what I did and when I told him he said, “We have a democratic system over here in India. What system do you have in England?”. It was evidence of the extent to which India has, above all, completely absorbed the concept of democracy. It has not been particularly well absorbed in many other parts of the world but Indians regard democracy as just as much their own as we regard it as our own.

There are very close economic factors. We have similar institutions of commerce and the same laws. There are very close cultural factors. As time goes by and India takes its place in the world as one of the main powers and economies, I look forward to closer relations between us and India. That would be natural and, I repeat, based on affinities that go back an extremely long way. Reverting to the start, it would be strange if that did not involve some military element.

I crave your Lordships’ indulgence for my straying slightly from the direct subject of NATO. I conclude with a point that I have not made yet. If we look at this country, my goodness, what a contribution the Indian community makes. It is the most successful community in this country. It is a very hard-working community with good family values. You have only to look around this House when it is fully attended to see, happily, that India is very well represented here. It has been of great advantage to this country and is one of the rather happier fruits of a relationship that goes back a very long way.

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Flight. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Browne, I did not have the privilege of serving alongside him in the House of Commons. I departed the other place as he arrived and I arrived back at this place just as he departed. It is great to be in the Chamber with him. I have heard a great deal about his ability, winsome humour, sharp mind and intellect. He will bring those powers of debate to bear, I am sure, on many occasions. Although the noble Lord, Lord Flight, talked about India, he began his life as an Essex boy, of which he is very proud. He had a distinguished career in business, after studying at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He was then elected as a Member of Parliament for the outstandingly beautiful constituency of Arundel and South Downs in 1997. I have it on the surest authority—from a distinguished former constituent of the noble Lord, Lord Flight—that he was a most assiduous Member of Parliament. He was a very hard working and diligent constituency MP. I am sure that that tradition and experience is something that he will bring to this House and his duties here. I am sure I speak on behalf of all noble Members in saying that he is a great addition and we welcome him.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing this debate in the ballot. I also had a subject in the ballot but was not successful. However, I am delighted that this subject was. Like many Members, I tend to look at the subject that I had in the ballot, then at the guy who was fortunate enough to win, and think about whether I can squeeze my words by contortion into what I first wanted to say. I will perhaps test the House’s patience on that in the last couple of minutes of my offering.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, introduced the subject of NATO so well, highlighting the key issues for consideration at present. The world has changed since 1949, when the NATO treaty was signed in Washington DC. The threat at that point was the Soviet Union, so NATO was formed.

I declare an interest: I have recently been appointed as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. In fact, I am so new that I have not yet attended my first meeting; I do so in two weeks’ time. I was pretty amazed to hear about the number of committees there—it is 300 or 400. A distinguished former Secretary-General, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who is in his place, says that that is perhaps not the case, and obviously I defer to his great expertise. But the assembly seems to be getting a very nice new building, smarter than what existed before, at the cost of €1 billion, I think, which seems to be quite a handsome addition for NATO in rather straitened times, particularly when we are finding things pretty tight in our defence budget here.

More important than that is to discover what NATO’s role is in the modern era. When I was looking back, I thought, “It would be good to go back to see what the different articles said in the original treaty about its purpose”. Two things were evident from the original text of the treaty, dated 4 April 1949. The first was this:

“The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments”.

That is quite an interesting point. Sometimes we perhaps see NATO as a rival to some institutions, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council, which had been formed just three years before. The UN had its first meeting in Church House just across the way here; the first meeting of the General Assembly was in 1946 in Methodist Central Hall. We sometimes think that NATO is trying to dilute the authority of the UN, but the treaty itself is very clear that it saw the peace and prosperity of peoples and Governments as being vested in the United Nations charter. It specifically said that it did not want in any way to diminish the lead role of the Security Council and the General Assembly in pursuing their tasks.

NATO had a very strong political remit. Today we tend to think of NATO as a purely military body. It is a formidable military power because, in the classic term, it was created to keep the Americans in and the Russians out. There was another part to that phrase, but it is no longer needed. To an extent, it has done that; NATO has succeeded in keeping the United States engaged in Europe, and that has helped immensely to guarantee our security. Of course it has not quite kept the Russians down, because now they are partners. In fact, I shall see President Medvedev turning up in Lisbon for the discussions there on the future of NATO as a partner. To see Russian observers at all meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—they have a right to attend—shows that the world has changed for the better, and NATO has been a very successful part of that.

Where does NATO go from here? On that, some of the thinking that has gone into the coalition’s strategic defence and security review can be helpful to us. The central argument in the helpful document that it produced, which is now our national security strategy, is that we need to move on from thinking that we can go around the world intervening—to move from intervention to prevention. There is a much greater emphasis on the prevention of conflict than on intervening in conflict. When you are a huge military power, there is the temptation that if you are a hammer you see every problem as a nail. Politics brings a subtlety to such matters. I am in politics because I abhor violence; I want peaceful solutions to all conflicts, peaceful transitions of power and the peaceful operation of societies.

The political dimension needs to step to the fore and take on the role of prevention. Prevention is very clear in the new security and defence policy. It says that we will move resources—this is a radical concept—of nearly £300 million away from the Ministry of Defence and put it into a pot which is about conflict prevention and resolution. That is a phenomenal leap. It recognises, as the national security policy says, that we must get better. Its top aim is to tackle the root cause of instability. Rather than intervening afterwards, we should intervene before. That is the whole thrust of where the national security policy is going.

That is a perfect role for NATO. It can use the fact that it keeps the United States in. It is crucial, in my view, that Turkey is also a member. NATO somehow transcends the European Union and adds something different. It could have a unique role in pursuing initiatives for peace and reconciliation within the world, intervening politically and in humanitarian ways rather than in a military way, which is always more costly. That fact was stated by the Prime Minister on his visit to Afghanistan recently.

As I come to the last minute of my time, I will chance my arm by raising an issue that I chose for a balloted debate recently. It is linked to the United Nations. Next year, there will be a United Nations resolution that proposes an Olympic Truce for the period of the Olympic Games in London 2012—from seven days before until seven days after. It will be passed by the United Nations General Assembly and all 193 member states of the United Nations will sign up to it. It will declare that they will pursue initiatives for peace and reconciliation during the period of the Olympic Games in the spirit of the ancient Games.

The problem is that if it is like any other of the previous resolutions, it will be completely ignored. If we are to go back to the almost defining point of NATO, where we recognise that if we are to have peace, prosperity and security in this world it will be through a broad-based international order and the United Nations will be at its heart, surely it behoves us to take United Nations resolutions seriously. There is no better resolution in my view to start with than to declare a truce during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Addington on securing this debate and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Flight on his interesting military bridge-building between NATO and India in his fascinating and excellent maiden speech. We look forward to many contributions over the years.

Europe spends collectively €200 billion on defence. Few would argue that it gets value for money or bangs for bucks. Within that total, the United Kingdom and France are by far the largest contributors, with 50 per cent of the total spend and probably 65 per cent of the research spend. In today's debate, I intend to focus my remarks on the changing relations within NATO’s membership, on Anglo-French military co-operation, particularly the defence and security co-operation treaties, and the way forward.

I do not wish to dwell on the past: on French isolation under de Gaulle or the disappointing outcomes of the 1998 St Malo agreement. Today, we are in a whole new ballgame. President Sarkozy has brought France back within NATO's military structure and severe budgetary pressures in our two countries have made greater co-operation the obvious and inevitable way forward. We have seen a dramatic and genuine shift in French policy and our coalition Government have responded in an open and positive way. I freely acknowledge the efforts of the previous Government in building the foundations of this current new relationship. As Alain Juppé, the French Defence Secretary of State, said in the National Assembly late last year:

“The defence treaty signed with the United Kingdom introduces an unprecedented co-operation”.

He went on:

“Our first objective is to develop co-operation between our armed forces in order to create a joint capability with a concrete road map”.

Liam Fox, appearing before the Lords Foreign Affairs and Defence Sub-Committee last week, said that the personal chemistry was very good with Alain Juppé and acknowledged the focus as being on interoperability so that the UK and France could work together if necessary.

As we know, a number of specific areas of co-operation are being worked up. We have decided to install catapults and arresting gear to our future operational carrier. Thus UK and French aircraft can operate from both nations’ carriers. The intention by the early 2020s is to have the ability to deploy the UK-French integrated carrier strike group. On the A400M transport, the plan is to develop common support for our future fleets of transport aircraft and agree a single contract with Airbus Military, to be signed by the end of 2011. On submarine technologies and systems, the aim is jointly to develop some of the equipment and technologies for the next generation of nuclear submarines. On maritime countermeasures, a common project team will be established this year to agree specifications for a prototype mine countermeasure system. Other areas include co-operation on nuclear stockpile testing, satellite communications and unmanned aerial systems.

Both UK and French politicians have made it abundantly clear that the Anglo-French co-operation involves no loss of sovereignty, both countries being free to deploy their own forces as each sees fit. I do not demur from that, but the creation of a combined joint expeditionary force suitable for a wide range of scenarios up to and including high-intensity operations points the way ahead. I welcome the joint exercises involving all three services planned for later this year.

David Cameron observed at the November 2010 summit that the only times when British forces had been deployed alone in the past 30 years were in Sierra Leone and in the Falklands. One can compare those two occasions with the number of times when we have fought alongside allies, from the first Gulf War through Bosnia and currently in Afghanistan. There are those, perhaps the majority, who support the Anglo-French defence treaty but would not wish it to go further and like our Defence Secretary regard any loss of national security as being totally unacceptable. However, others like myself are rather more pragmatic; we see it as a beginning rather than an end. Of course, trust will take time to develop, and we have to build a new entente brick by brick. Looking back, perhaps closer dialogue and co-operation with France might have caused us to be more circumspect about the invasion of Iraq and the way in which we launched into Afghanistan.

We all know how our two countries went their separate ways on defence, but if we stand back and look at it objectively, does it really make sense for us to have our respective, separate submarine-borne strategic nuclear deterrents at considerable cost prowling the world’s oceans with no obvious targets or threats? Can we seriously imagine just one of us ever coming under nuclear attack and not the other? Surely our proximity would bring about mutual contamination in any case, let alone the risks of missile inaccuracy. With our conventional forces in time, I would like to see more integration and greater use of mutual training areas, our air fields and our ports.

Today we face a particular problem in this country. The loss of our Nimrod capability, which has been referred to in numerous recent defence debates and in Questions, leaves a gap that we cannot easily bridge. When my noble friend replies, will he say whether we have made any approaches to the French to help in this regard—for the use of their fairly substantial maritime patrol aircraft fleet?

In any discussion on Anglo-French co-operation, we clearly need to be cognisant of the reaction and possible concern of other NATO countries. Earlier this month our Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, said that while the United States and France remain the “two key providers” of defence equipment to the UK, other allies, including Italy and Germany, could become crucial equipment partners, citing Italy’s expertise in sensors for possible utilisation in the development of UK/French unmanned systems.

Finally, concerning the United States, clearly it remains our great superpower ally. However, as it increasingly looks to the east—to the Pacific rim, as my noble friend Lord Addington said earlier—it should surely welcome greater European co-operation and efficiency in defence, thus requiring a lesser call on itself.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for achieving this debate. I also rather share with him the question: what is the threat? Let me tell your Lordships that I moved jobs in Germany as the wall came down. I went from being the corps commander to being the commander-in-chief. The first thing I did was to go and see the intelligence brigadier. I asked, “What is the threat?” He said, “Commander-in-chief, it’s multidirectional and multifaceted, which means I haven’t a clue where it’s coming from”.

In a funny sort of way, that emphasises to me that, because the UK would not be able to operate in some of the military situations that we face on our own, we need to be part of an alliance—and a key nation, because only one nation has a real military capability that it can sustain over a prolonged period. That is the United States, so its importance in any military relationship that we have is critical. Whether that should be NATO or another alliance, I do not know, but I cannot stress how strongly I believe in the critical importance of that.

NATO is, of course, now involved in Afghanistan. I had some reservations about going into Afghanistan, but the facts are there, and again only one nation can sustain the sort of military effort that is required: the United States. Unless some other form of that can be devised, that will remain hugely important. When you explain to people the difficulty of sustaining complex, dangerous military operations over a prolonged period and the assets needed to sustain them, only the United States and one or two European nations can provide those.

In Afghanistan, we are now facing NATO’s greatest military challenge, operationally. I have been disappointed by the contribution made by some NATO nations to that campaign. I believe that this could, in time, lead to the US having doubts about the value of NATO. That would be a grave disadvantage to this country and to our security, not least because Europe, although it has some high-tech military capabilities, has a very limited ability to sustain the sort of prolonged military operations that I referred to earlier.

My immediate concern is Afghanistan, which is a major challenge. We have to ask ourselves whether we have the force levels right in Afghanistan at the moment. I am talking about us, not the Americans, and I know that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, will address that point later. Also, can we sustain that operation over a prolonged period? If Europe really is to have a credible military capability, it has to ask itself whether it is prepared to spend the money that it requires to provide it. At the moment, I see no sign of Europe being prepared to make that effort. Until that happens, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that NATO and the United States link remain critically important, both politically and militarily, for this country.

My Lords, it is with some reluctance that I speak today. On seeing that I was to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and after hearing the kind remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, that reluctance has grown to simply fearsome proportions. I am still new to your Lordships’ House and very much in the process of learning the ropes. That has certainly been expedited and made much less difficult by all the support that I have received from the wonderful staff here—before my introduction, on the day itself and subsequently—and by the warm reception that I have had from your Lordships. I am most grateful for all this.

I had fully intended to take a little time to find my feet before getting up on them, but the noble Lord, Lord Addington, has introduced this important subject today. As I have spent the better part of the last five years on NATO’s military committee and participated in the alliance’s deliberations over that period, you will understand why I feel under some obligation to speak.

This is an important debate because NATO is important. It is perhaps the most successful military alliance in history but, as we all know, it faces significant challenges today. The fundamental issue remains the same as that which confronted the alliance two decades ago after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union—can an organisation created to deal with a specific threat in a particular set of circumstances remain relevant let alone thrive when that threat and those circumstances have changed so dramatically? We now have the experience of the past 20 years to help answer that question. My involvement over the last five years has led me to a couple of key conclusions which I will lay before your Lordships this afternoon.

First is the basic question of what NATO is for. Is it essentially an alliance to defend against physical threats to the territorial integrity of its member nations? In other words, should NATO concern itself with Article 5 of the treaty and little else, or should it seek to deal with more complex security issues further afield, as it is doing today in Afghanistan? This has been the subject of considerable debate among the member nations, and their views on this point have varied considerably. For my part, the answer seems clear; it has to be yes to both propositions. I am in no doubt that Article 5 must remain the bedrock of the alliance. Without it, NATO would soon cease to exist. Even those who see no immediate or near-term physical threat to their territorial integrity—as some member nations do—cannot be sure that none will arise in the future.

On the other hand, if NATO is of little relevance to the current security concerns of its members, they will be tempted to neglect it in favour of arrangements that meet what they see as their most urgent and pressing needs. In these circumstances, there is a real risk that, should NATO at some stage in the future face a threat under the provisions of Article 5, it will no longer have a credible and coherent military capability with which to respond. NATO’s continued vitality, and perhaps viability, depends on it providing at least some response to the problems with which its members are grappling today.

As we know, these problems are complex and often far removed from the alliance’s boundaries. As this is a north Atlantic alliance, not just a European one, it must be relevant to the security concerns of the United States of America and Canada, and not just to those of Europe. This is not about trying to be all things to all men; it is simply the alliance having to do what so many of the individual nations within it, including the United Kingdom, are having to do—deal with the problems of today while guarding against and preparing for those that may arise tomorrow and the day after.

Secondly, on the effective functioning of NATO, the alliance works on the principle of political consensus—or, as some would have it, fails to work because of that principle. They have a point. Consensus was hard enough to achieve in an organisation of 16 nations facing a monolithic threat across the inner German border. With 28 nations seeking to deal with the kinds of complex security issues that I have suggested must be confronted, consensus might seem a vain hope, so some argue that we should abandon the principle. I understand their frustration, but seeking to abandon the need for consensus would threaten NATO’s very existence, and in practical terms I see no realistic prospect of such a change being agreed. On the other hand, to subject every decision at whatever level to this requirement simply leads to deadlock and stagnation, so we need to be much more nuanced about what consensus actually means.

This may seem rather a technical point, but I have seen situations in which the ponderous decision-making process that results from the need for consensus at many levels has affected our military personnel deployed on operations. I am afraid that the tempo of bureaucracy in Brussels is ill matched to the tempo required by the people the alliance puts in harm’s way. This has to change. NATO has made some progress in this regard, but it needs to do much more. Not all nations yet share that view, but many do. The urgency of operations in Afghanistan gives us both the spur and the leverage to make much needed progress.

I have touched on the key issues of purpose and effectiveness, but I started by saying that NATO is important. It is perhaps worth reflecting on why this is so. The United Kingdom long ago abandoned the concept of national defence in favour of collective security. Yes, we retained the capability to conduct certain limited operations on our own but, as is the case for all member nations, the physical security of these islands is underwritten by NATO. The renationalisation of defence within Europe seems to me an unattractive prospect in theory and probably unachievable in the light of financial reality, so we continue to need NATO, and therefore need to keep it fit for purpose. The corollary is that we must continue to invest in NATO to sustain both the alliance’s capability and our influence within it. Yes, NATO must become more responsive and more efficient. Certainly, in these straitened times, the organisation should reduce its overheads and streamline its structure, but we should guard against unilateral decisions that reduce and undermine our national voice in this crucial arena. Therefore, I urge the Minister to ensure that our investment in NATO—of high-calibre people as well as money—remains commensurate with the importance of the alliance to the future security of this country and its people.

My Lords, in rising to make a short and modest contribution to this debate, I start by congratulating the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on his maiden speech. The noble and gallant Lord comes to your Lordships' House after a most distinguished career first in the Royal Air Force and then as Chief of the Defence Staff. Being Chief of the Defence Staff in very difficult times, as he was, and keeping the admiration and respect of your Ministers on the one hand and all those under your command on the other, is a very difficult act. The noble and gallant Lord achieved that act with distinction. He therefore brings his experience and wisdom to your Lordships' House at a crucial time for our defence, and we are most grateful for that.

I cannot but remember that the very last time I had the honour of speaking immediately following a maiden speech, it was that of Lord Fieldhouse, who served in this House for such a, sadly, short time. He, too, was a very distinguished Chief of the Defence Staff. I see three more distinguished Chiefs of the Defence Staff in their places this afternoon. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, is the honourable heir of a proud and famous tradition, and he is most welcome. We look forward to his many future speeches with keen anticipation.

Perhaps I may touch on two points, one of which—the obligations of NATO as a whole—was touched upon by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. He referred to Article 5 of the treaty, which states that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. When the first nine members of NATO joined together back in 1949, that was a straightforward and understandable part of the treaty. The threat was obvious then. Nowadays, it is rather less obvious.

What is the threat? What constitutes an attack these days? Is it a phalanx of tanks rolling across the border? Yes, I presume that that would be an attack. Is it a great fleet of bombers coming to drop their bombs? Yes, that would surely be an attack. Or, more likely, is it an intercontinental missile? I remember the intermediate-range intercontinental missiles—the SS20s, I think they were called—which in my time at the Ministry of Defence were installed and pointed straight at us along the eastern border of the NATO countries.

The important question that I wish to put to my noble friend is this: what undertaking was given to the new, more recent, adherents to the NATO treaty? The previous two were Albania and Croatia, which joined just a couple of years ago. Did we say to them that an attack on them would be the same as an attack on us, and that we would respond accordingly? I do not know what we said. If we did say that, we should have said it with some care. I hope that my noble friend can clarify that. Going back a few years to 2004, another seven countries became members of NATO—Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Were they, too, given an undertaking that an attack on them was the same as an attack on us? I dare say that they are wondering who will be a more likely aggressor in their part of the world.

I asked earlier about the most likely form of attack. A phalanx of tanks coming across the border would represent just that, no doubt. Nowadays, of course, other things might constitute an attack—for example, would a cyberattack represent an attack that we would have to respond to in accordance with Article 5 of the NATO treaty? Perhaps my noble friend can clarify that point. Not so long ago, one of the NATO countries had its gas supply turned off by a neighbour. Some might have said—indeed, that country might have said—that that constituted an attack.

We have to take care. We have to decide, first, whether these essential principles continue to apply today in every respect and, secondly, what the nature of the attack is. These are worrying times because of the enormous pressures that we are suffering, mostly of a financial nature. I hope that my noble friend can clarify some of the issues that I have drawn to your Lordships’ attention.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Addington for securing this debate and for introducing it in such a thoughtful way. NATO has always been of interest to your Lordships’ House, not least since three Secretaries-General of NATO have been Members of this House—most recently the noble Lord, Lord Robertson.

We have heard two distinguished maiden speeches, from the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, both of whom talked about important areas outside NATO’s territory; however, it seems to me that the challenges for NATO are fundamentally, not just a little, different from the purposes for which it was founded. First, at that time, it was clear who the enemy was. I remember, when the IRA had a ceasefire in Northern Ireland, one of the Northern Ireland politicians famously said that it was the most destabilising thing that had happened in his lifetime. In a sense, he was right, because when you know who the enemy is and where to point the guns, that is simple and straightforward. NATO’s purpose was, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said, very clear: to keep our American colleagues with us in protecting us from the Soviet Union.

The situation is by no means so clear now, as has been said by other noble Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has just said, it was clear then what an attack was and that it would be a relatively conventional attack; even a non-conventional attack was seen in terms of weapons of mass effect. However, what now constitutes an attack is far less clear. He mentioned one cyberattack—I declare an interest as president of ARTIS Europe, a research and risk analysis company that looks at some of these matters—but, of course, not only has a small country in the alliance, Estonia, had a denial-of-service attack, there are attacks every day on the United States Department of Defense, not to mention our own defence establishments. It is not as though there is a day on which an attack starts; they go on constantly and it is by no means easy to be clear about precisely where some of the attacks come from. It appears that the attack on Estonia came at some point from Russian territory but, because many of these areas are remote, one does not know exactly what that means.

The difficulty, too, has come from the very success of NATO. As NATO has become more successful, so its extent has grown. As a strong supporter of the European Union, I remember becoming increasingly concerned about whether it was possible to widen and deepen the European Union at the same time and at some speed. I expressed substantial doubt to my colleagues about whether that was possible, and I maintain that view. I think that the faster one extends, the more difficult it is to deepen, and so with NATO. It seems to me that the more we have extended, the less clear NATO’s purpose has become. Where a defined territorial integrity might be under attack, it is clear what the purpose and role of NATO will be. Its very name— the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation—identifies its geographical extent. However, once one starts to look at substantially different territories, one encounters problems in two ways.

The first of those problems is in being clear about where an attack response is justified. Here, we come to the question of Afghanistan and, in a sense, to the link between the two maiden speeches—one referring to Afghanistan and the other to India. If we find ourselves responding to an attack on our own geographical territory, we know what to do—we discuss it among ourselves, as we are all to some extent under attack. However, responding to an attack in Afghanistan is a different matter. When discussing Afghanistan a year or so ago with Indian military commanders, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that, despite their being an ally and having a million men under arms, and despite their historic relationship with Afghanistan, there had been little or no consultation with India in advance of any response in Afghanistan. Subsequently, when India offered assistance, there was remarkably little acceptance of that assistance. If we have to move outside the territorial integrity of our own area, we have to find a different way of operating with those whom we can regard as allies; otherwise, we will fall over ourselves, not knowing what we are dealing with and not having to hand all the allies who would be prepared to help us.

However, it then becomes difficult to hold the alliance together. Let us take as an example Turkey, which has been such a stout and important member of NATO. The situation in Turkey has changed because, as NATO has advanced and developed and other countries have wanted to be part of it, so Turkey has begun to change. When Turkey was a secular country with a very strong military command that had control of everything, it was easy to see how it might relate to us within NATO. However, things have changed. Turkey is now a more democratic country, but the democratic forces and the military establishment do not necessarily see things in quite the same way. The democratic establishment now wants to look to a more significant Turkish regional role, with different kinds of relationships within its own region and territory and different political attitudes compared to many of the leading countries and partners in NATO. It is not at all clear, particularly since the European Union has been unwise enough not to embrace Turkey more energetically, how that important component of the alliance will develop over the next number of years. That will have implications in the wider Middle East.

Like other noble Lords—it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton I have seen senior officials in NATO developing strategy. At Lisbon, my very good friend the former Liberal Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, produced the new strategic document, Active Engagement, Modern Defence. From reading through that document, it seems to me that although useful thinking is taking place and the new threats and problems externally are being identified, such as the cyber threat, there is very little in the document about the stresses and strains within NATO itself and about its whole purpose.

In particular, a fundamental problem for a military alliance in dealing with the developing threats is this: a military operation, certainly an official one, is hierarchical in its structure and bureaucratic in its control relationship with politics and politicians and Governments, whereas many of the threats that we experience, whether they are terrorist threats or cyber threats from terrorists, hackers or even from other countries, operate in a network fashion and not in a hierarchical fashion. If we do not look to the very structures of the way our military and military alliances function, we will find that they are always trying to address what has happened in the recent past rather than what is happening and what we are facing currently. That is a very real dilemma for us.

It seems to me that NATO and its whole way of working must address these threats as they are, and that may require changes of structure and function. If NATO becomes a network, rather than a structured, hierarchical military alliance, that will have all sorts of implications for matters like the consensus of decision-making when it comes to action and whether that results in more operations by those who feel themselves most at threat. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, asked the question: when the new countries came in, did that really mean that all of us were prepared to go to war on any kind of attack? Whatever was said to those countries, I simply do not believe that that is actually the case. If we are not to be disingenuous, and then find ourselves in a huge dilemma when the matter arises, we must look at how we actually structure and function as an alliance.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on their excellent maiden speeches. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Addington on securing this important debate. I was particularly pleased that he mentioned the Cold War. I suppose for many of my generation the period of their childhood through to middle age was dominated by that non-conflict. Today, I hear politicians say that we live in dangerous times and that we face some of the biggest and most dangerous challenges that there have been in the world for a long time, but I reject that. Are people's memories so short that we do not remember that we lived through several decades when we woke up in the morning and were not sure that the world would exist in four minutes' time, let alone by the time the sun rose again the next day? That has perhaps been the success of NATO, an organisation which I think, as many noble Lords have said, is vital to the western world and to the defence of this country, but one where the needs have now started to change.

I want to address two areas. One is EU-NATO relations and the other is the UK-French defence treaties. It is in the area of EU-NATO that some of the important challenges for NATO lie. Returning to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, if NATO is to be relevant to some of its European nations, it is important that we resolve the EU-NATO relationship.

Of course, not everything there is negative, although there are many challenges. The European Union agreed its Petersberg tasks. Although that was not in agreement with NATO, it defined the two roles: the EU was to take charge of humanitarian issues, peacekeeping and, in some circumstances, peacemaking; but it was clear that territorial protection was for NATO.

In 2003, we had the Berlin Plus agreement, where areas were agreed between NATO and the EU—where the EU could operate and under what conditions. One of those operations is still going on in Bosnia, Operation Althea, which works very well in information sharing and all the areas covered by the Berlin Plus agreement. As I hear so often, since I have the privilege to chair this House’s EU Sub-Committee on foreign affairs and defence, there are a number of areas in which it does not work, which has specific important consequences.

One of those, although it has not been not fundamental, is where the EU has operated with India in Operation Atalanta, where there has been a great deal of co-operation between NATO fleets, the EU Operation Atalanta, the Indians, the Chinese and other maritime nations that have worked together in counterpiracy. During that operation, certainly in its early stages, there were significant limits on the information and intelligence that was swapped between those organisations. The outcome is that there was a less efficient use of important military assets, which are scarce when they are being used elsewhere in the world.

A recent inquiry into the European police operation in Afghanistan found that, again, we have a lack of formal agreement between NATO and the European Union. We heard evidence from Brussels that, in extremis, that would threaten the protection of EU citizens, including United Kingdom citizens, serving in that European police operation. That is unacceptable and needs to be solved. That has been going on for many years, and the difficulty, as we all know, concerns relations between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus. Although the technical reason is the fact that Malta and Cyprus are not members of NATO, as EU members, that is used as a means by which not to reach agreement.

I strongly believe that the lack of agreement to work between those organisations has a negative effect externally, outside Europe and the North Atlantic, and stops what could be a very effective operation between them, particularly when there is a combination of state building—civilian operations for which the EU is strong and useful—and military applications, which should be fulfilled by NATO. Where are the Government in terms of this complex problem which still needs to be solved? A solution has taken some time. Should we start approaching this more robustly with our partners instead of maintaining the softly-softly approach which seems not to have worked? Of the 27 members of the European Union, 21 are members of NATO.

I have been privileged to be involved in the Anglo-French treaties from a parliamentary point of view. The French Government more or less insisted on a parliamentary dimension to these treaties so, from your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and I have been involved in the process with Members from the other place, including the right honourable James Arbuthnot and other members of the Defence Committee there. I very much welcome these treaties, which France’s return to the operational side of NATO makes possible. They also enable us to extend in very practical ways the co-operation and collective security that we have in NATO to that bilateral relationship.

As my noble friend Lord Lee pointed out, France and the United Kingdom provide 50 per cent of total EU defence expenditure, slightly more than that in assets and, I think, up to 75 per cent of the total in terms of research. When the Secretary of State, Dr Liam Fox, came before our committee last week we were very concerned that the British Government perhaps wanted to make this agreement for financial reasons, and we wanted to know whether it would be sustainable. He convinced us that this treaty is intended for the long term and that it will be effective. The strategy of building confidence through a small number of measures—rather than through what the French ambassador described as “hyperbolic” means of co-operation—is exactly the right way to build that relationship. This year we will have Flanders II, Southern Mistral and a maritime operation as well. I congratulate the Government on that agreement. It is not a substitute for a European common security and defence policy, but it adds to it. I very much hope that it will be a stimulus to ensuring that other European nations pull their weight more than they do at present.

I was in Japan last year when there was an incident between a Chinese fishing vessel and the Japanese coast guard. It caused a furore, which I do not think we understand here, within the populace of both Japan and China. That was of course followed by the incident of North Korea shelling a South Korean island. In defence, the United States has inevitably turned its face towards the Pacific, where it sees an increased defence need. This trend has been short term but I believe that it will also be a longer-term one that we in Europe need to be aware of in keeping the United States involved here. Ironically, Russia too will have increasingly to look west, because in the east—in sparse and open Siberia, which, in the very long term, it will find difficult to defend—it will see other powers as a growing threat.

My Lords, this debate, coming as it does at a time when NATO is facing the greatest challenge to its future credibility and solidarity in Afghanistan, could not be more opportune. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has therefore done us all a service in making this debate possible. It has also, of course, provided the occasion for two wonderfully eclectic and different maiden speeches. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Flight, who is looking for some co-operation between India and this country, that there is UN peacekeeping. The Indians are the biggest provider of UN peacekeepers. This country, alas, for reasons that do not need to be dwelt on at the moment, is about the smallest, but there is plenty of opportunity for co-operation there. I thought my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup did us a great service by taking us back to some really fundamental questions about what NATO is there for and what it should be doing.

I shall say a little bit about Afghanistan and then address two other important and often overlooked issues, the NATO/EU relationship, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has just referred, and the alliance’s nuclear posture and attitude towards the reduction or withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, referred.

NATO’s major involvement in Afghanistan is sometimes criticised and sometimes regretted, even by those who now support it. I am not among their number. I really do not see how NATO could have refused to get involved after an attack from Afghan territory had led to the triggering of Article 5. The rather gratuitous initial cold-shouldering by the Bush Administration, in particular by the then US Secretary of Defense, of that act of solidarity was a major political error, but it was not a justification for turning our backs when the US asked for help. In any case, that is now all water under the bridge. We cannot go back to that earlier moment of choice. What is needed now is determination to stay the course and, at the same time, an imaginative strategy for bringing the need for an outside military intervention in Afghanistan to an end. I doubt whether setting artificial deadlines for initial reductions in troop presence, such as President Obama’s summer 2011 undertaking or our end-2014 date for ending combat involvement, are at all wise or helpful if they are not in any way linked to conditions on the ground. They are far too likely to encourage the Taliban to sit it out and wait for us to go.

As for the strategy to end the need for NATO’s combat presence in Afghanistan, which should be our objective, it surely needs a much stronger regional dimension in which we work for a commitment by Afghanistan and all its neighbours to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states in the region, to non-interference, to confidence-building measures and to a programme of economic co-operation. That strengthened regional approach requires, I would suggest, more than just occasional, informal meetings of the Governments of the region, which is what has taken place so far. It requires more than just warm words and short follow-up. It needs firm, binding long-term commitments of the sort the two sides in the Cold War in Europe endorsed at Helsinki in 1975, including commitments to respect each other’s borders. That, of course, has to include the Durand line, the frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Secondly, in Afghanistan I would suggest that we need a more subtle approach to reconciling the Pashtun tribes with the central Government in Kabul, possibly revolving around some international, perhaps UN-hatted, go-between to shuttle between elements of these Pashtun tribes and President Karzai. I doubt very much whether direct contacts managed either by President Karzai or by the US or NATO military are the best way to set about achieving that reconciliation, and I would be grateful if the Minister would respond to these two points on Afghanistan.

The present state of NATO/EU co-operation, or rather the lack of it, to which the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred, is frankly pretty deplorable and it is damaging to both parties, as we have seen in the examples that he gave in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It leads to duplication, dangerous security gaps and to unnecessary misunderstandings. We all know why it has happened and who is responsible—Cyprus on the EU side and Turkey on the NATO side. Each has taken the organisation to which it belongs hostage and hostage-taking is a nasty habit.

It was good that last November’s NATO summit recognised that something needed to be done to remedy this state of affairs. If a definitive solution cannot be worked out by the time of NATO’s spring ministerial meeting, which is now only a few weeks away, surely the Secretary-General of NATO and the EU’s high representative have enough delegated authority to work out pragmatic arrangements for day-to-day co-operation in Brussels and wherever the two organisations are operating in the field to work together properly. Here, I very much echo what my noble and gallant friend said about finding ways to break out of the trap of consensus or at least to work a way around it in some limited manner.

Surely, the other members of the two organisations have enough influence with their partners who are preventing this to stop them meddling with or trying to block any pragmatic arrangements agreed between the Secretary-General and the high representatives. Perhaps the Minister could say what we are hoping to achieve in this matter in the next couple of months.

Thirdly, on the alliance’s nuclear posture, I very much regret that the opportunity was missed at last November’s NATO summit to adjust the alliance’s nuclear posture and to bring it into conformity with the negative security assurances given now by the US and the UK separately to non-nuclear states which are in full conformity with their non-proliferation treaty obligations; namely, that we would neither use nor threaten to use nuclear weapons against them.

What on earth is one to make of the fact that NATO does not have the same position? Are the US and the UK bound by their assurances when it acts unilaterally but not if they act as part of the alliance? It is surely desirable to clear up this ambiguity at the earliest opportunity. Similarly, it is surely equally desirable to make it clear to the Russians that the alliance is ready to work with them for the mutual reduction of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and to do so as a matter of practical urgency now that the US and Russia have ratified, and last weekend in Munich brought into effect, the new START treaty on strategic weapons.

This subject, along with ballistic missile defence and the scope for co-operation with the Russians over that too, are matters which need to be carried forward purposefully if opportunities are not to be missed. I very much hope that the Minister will say what sort of input we are making into the follow-up work to the agreement at last November’s NATO summit to carry forward discussion of these issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, referred to cyber, which clearly is a threat to the NATO alliance, as it is to the EU. It is a threat in security terms to NATO, and in terms of cybercrime and a lot of other issues it is a threat to the European Union. Last weekend, I was present in Munich when the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary made an excellent speech about the need to face up to the threats from cyber and about his intention to bring together a conference or gathering of relevant countries here in the latter part of this year. He took an excellent initiative and, from what I could gather, it was extremely well received.

In preparing that, I hope he will cast his net fairly wide and make sure that he brings within the scope of the considerations the work being done in NATO and in the European Union, and the need to talk to countries like India, China and Russia. Although they may be, and certainly are, part of the threat, they also have to be part of the way of handling the threat if we are not to move, as we did with nuclear weapons, through a phase of mutually assured destruction before we realise that that is not a frightfully clever direction in which to be moving.

The future of NATO remains a key focus for this country’s foreign policy. But it needs to be a NATO which is adapting to new challenges and which is learning lessons from past errors. International organisations which fail to adapt, like national institutions which fail to adapt, become extraordinarily vulnerable and much less useful. It is not in our interest that NATO should fall into that sort of category.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, on securing this debate and with it the opportunity to discuss the future of NATO. I also add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on their eloquent, enjoyable and informative maiden speeches, which reflected their considerable knowledge and expertise on the issues on which they spoke.

The NATO Heads of State and Government Summit took place last November in Lisbon. A number of issues were on the agenda, including the launch of the alliance’s new strategic concept, with its renewed commitment to three key tasks; namely, collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security. The new strategic concept accepts that the threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory is currently low, but it identifies a number of potential threats to alliance security, including the proliferation of ballistic missile technologies, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction—not least in some of the world's most volatile regions—terrorism, cyberattacks, increasing dependence on energy supplies from outside NATO countries and the impact of issues such as climate change, scarcity of water supply and increasing energy need on security in areas of concern to NATO.

In the light of these considerations, the strategic concept made a number of recommendations for the alliance collectively, including sustaining the necessary levels of defence spending. Do the Government consider that current and projected levels of defence spending will enable this country to meet the objectives and spirit of NATO’s new strategic concept? We welcome the new strategic concept for NATO, which recognises the new threats that the world faces. However, do the Government believe that there is any validity in a view that has been expressed that there may be a mismatch between the wide-ranging objectives and goals of the alliance, as set out in the new strategic concept, and the reduction in resources that member nations are expected to allocate to defence as a result of the impact of the global recession?

In a speech last October the NATO Secretary-General said that he understood why allies were cutting into their defence budgets, but he then said that cuts could go too far and that we should avoid cutting so deep that Europe could not pull its weight when it came to security, which might lead the United States to look elsewhere for its security partner. In view of those concerns expressed by the Secretary-General, can the Minister say whether there has been any debate within NATO about the central funding requirements of the alliance and the projected levels of defence expenditure of its member states in the light of the wide ranging objectives and goals set out in the new strategic concept? Perhaps he can also say what decisions or actions the Government have taken, or started to take, in the light of the content of the new strategic concept since it was agreed at Lisbon last November, and what actions they envisage taking over the next 12 months.

The key challenge for NATO in Lisbon was to define its purpose in a 21st-century security landscape and outline how it will be as important in the future as it has been in the past. There have, however, been comments from some quarters that the consensus achieved at the Lisbon summit was fairly superficial and that differences of opinion existed between NATO allies on the key purposes of the alliance, including over its focus on the task of guaranteeing the security of Europe in relation to its activities in undertaking crisis management operations “out of area”. Can the Minister say whether the Government believe that there are differences of view between NATO allies on the purposes of the alliance, or whether the wide ranging nature of the objectives and roles of the alliance as set out in the new strategic concept means that there is a common, united accord on the point and purposes of NATO to which all subscribe around those wide ranging objectives and roles?

The development of military capabilities has been a regular item on the agenda for NATO allies. This now includes agreement on the enhancement of cyberdefence capabilities, and in particular on defence against a cyberattack aimed at systems of critical importance to the alliance. A NATO cyberdefence policy is to be drawn up by the middle of this year and an action plan for its implementation prepared. What role is the United Kingdom playing in drawing up the action plan, and is the target date of June this year likely to be achieved?

The Lisbon summit called also for reform of the institutional structures of the alliance. A final decision on a new NATO command structure is expected to be taken no later than June this year. Is that target date likely to be achieved? What do the Government want to see achieved by a new command structure that is not currently being realised—or is it simply a matter of seeking to reduce costs?

On the issue of Afghanistan, the Lisbon summit confirmed the process of transition to Afghan security responsibility, resulting in Afghan forces gradually assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. We strongly support Afghan forces taking the lead in 2014, but it is important that work is done to ensure that the date is achievable, which will mean increased efforts in political reconciliation and more inclusive Afghan security forces and local government. We welcome NATO's endorsement of the Afghan-led reconciliation programme. What progress has been made since the Lisbon summit in moving forward this programme as rapidly as possible?

NATO must set out detailed plans to train and develop Afghan security forces, as they will have responsibility for the country when we leave. Milestones should be set to track the progress of the transition plan. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that this will be done, and what those milestones will be. British troops will continue to play a training role in Afghanistan from 2015. It is important that these troops will have the right security conditions to do that job, as the safety of our forces must be paramount. I will not ask the Minister a question on this, because I am sure that he, too, holds that view.

The Lisbon summit also discussed the relationship between NATO and Russia. It is clearly right that we should seek to improve our relationship with Russia, and we welcome the new phase of co-operation. We welcome the joint work on the new missile defence system. This development shows how the world has changed since the Cold War because it involves co-operation with, rather than the isolation of, Russia. Only through such co-operation will progress towards the ambitious long-term aims set out by President Obama in 2009 of a world without nuclear weapons stand any chance of being achieved.

This country, under the post-war Labour Government, was a founder member of NATO. Our belief on this side of the House in the importance of multilateral co-operation and of working through NATO for British security and international peace and stability is now, if anything, even stronger. However, it is also clear from Afghanistan that in defending the 900 million citizens of NATO countries against the threats that we face today and will face in the decade ahead, our involvement with fragile states in order to prevent terrorism will mean that NATO must pursue its objectives on the basis that military means can be successful only alongside political, civilian and humanitarian development.

NATO has grown considerably and is quite different in its composition from the original 12 charter members. The nations making up today's NATO vary in their geography and history, in their outlook on such things as human rights, and in their views on national and collective defence. The alliance's members are also changing internally, not least as a result of demographic changes. However, NATO has adapted to change before, as it moved on from the Cold War alliance, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO has been described as an essential source of stability in an uncertain world. It has been in the past, and there is no reason why it should not continue to be so in the very different world in which we live today, and the world in which we are likely to live in future.

My Lords, this has been a very expert and enjoyable debate. I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to it. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Addington for securing the debate and the two maiden speakers, who are fairly expert contributors themselves. I said to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, the other day that I must once have lectured to him. I was privileged to lecture to the Royal College of Defence Studies once a year for 21 years, which makes me just about old enough to have been there when he was there in the early 1990s.

We are discussing a subject that, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, rightly pointed out, is insufficiently debated in the national media and the national Parliament. I very much agree with everything he said about the need for a more informed debate. After all, NATO has achieved peace in Europe and tremendous success as an alliance. However, that task has been transformed since the Cold War crumbled away in 1989 and 1990. Europe is now at peace, although still with unresolved conflicts around its edges. Most of the former members of the Warsaw Pact are now members of both the EU and NATO. NATO has had to reinvent itself to serve usefully new purposes.

The Lisbon NATO summit last November approved a new strategic concept, which now needs to guide the process of NATO reform and of changing capabilities. NATO needs to reinvent itself every 10 years to remain an effective alliance that commands the full support of all its members. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said, the continued effectiveness of NATO also depends on public support within the member states. The absence of strong political leadership within Europe to which he referred is thus a major threat to the continuation of the alliance.

I regret that we do not discuss defence and defence co-operation very often in either House of the British Parliament. I regret that we do not spend more time discussing these issues across national Parliaments and across national debates. All noble Lords who have been involved in discussing European security with our German partners, for example, will know that they start from a very different perspective from the British. The French are a great deal closer to us. Engaging in each other’s domestic debates is part of holding NATO together.

I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bates, to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. We need to make sure that we plug such assemblies back into national Parliaments to ensure that it continues to have a useful function. If we do not, Defence Ministers agree and go back and Finance Ministers veto, leaving us stuck without the capabilities that we need.

I particularly welcome the emphasis of the noble Lord, Lord Lee, on the Franco-British treaty—one of the latest developments in British security policy. That is a new treaty that needs to be debated and explained, and for which we need to build public support as we carry it into practice.

I identified at least seven themes in this debate and I probably missed several more. There is the crucial link between the United States and the security of the European region, which NATO has been about since the start and in which it continues to be one of the key elements. There is the whole question of NATO command structure reform and NATO reform as a whole; the nuclear dimension; the NATO-Russia relationship; the implications of the Franco-British defence and security co-operation treaty; north Atlantic co-operation on out-of-area operations, on which several noble Lords discussed the key Afghan operation; and the development of a comprehensive approach to civil conflict.

On the question of the link with the United States, several noble Lords have said that it is true that the United States no longer sees European security as its key priority. We are, after all, blessed; Europe is now at peace. However, the link that an integrated alliance gives us to American intelligence and the American military is invaluable—it is part of what enables NATO, or at least willing members of it, to operate together in area or out of area whenever we need to. We see that in central Asia and of course in Afghanistan, and we might have to see it again in other areas.

On Afghanistan, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will allow me to say that he raised a large number of questions that go rather wider than this debate. I pay tribute to the substantial number of British troops who have been committed to Afghanistan and will continue to be for some while yet. We feel that we are making good progress in a very difficult set of circumstances. We have learnt in Afghanistan, as from the Balkan experience, that our approach to security needs to be, as the strategic concept puts it, “comprehensive”—a mixture of civil and military capabilities. We are, we hope, learning from the awkward lessons that we are suffering in order to put those lessons into practice. That in turn means that relations between the more civilian power of the EU and the more military power of NATO become a more important part of our alliance as a whole.

On NATO reform, the NATO strategic concept commits NATO to,

“continuous reform towards a more effective, efficient and flexible Alliance”.

As noble Lords know, the Secretary-General has just made a speech at the Munich security conference in which he highlighted the need for NATO to reduce bureaucracy and slim down structures. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, referred to the bureaucratic tempo of NATO Brussels and the slow-moving—sometimes, not even moving—consensus through which we all struggle. Those of us who know the NATO headquarters, those extremely rickety temporary buildings from the 1960s, know that it is not just a question of saving money to knock them down and build an effective and smaller headquarters; it is also a matter of trying to build a more efficient apparatus that suits an entirely different set of threats from those that existed in the early 1960s when NATO first moved its headquarters from Paris to Brussels. It is not just to reduce costs. We are bringing down the number of headquarters and the number of agencies because the tasks that we face are very different.

One of the issues under consideration is whether the NATO maritime command HQ should remain at Northwood in the United Kingdom. Her Majesty’s Government strongly believe that it should on the grounds of its proven efficiency, effectiveness and low running costs; because it has the necessary infrastructure and communications to command surface and sub-surface maritime forces; and because it is the only NATO HQ that is co-located with a current EU operations HQ, as both NATO and EU counterpiracy operations are being run from the same location and interact closely. The UK has been driving resource reform, which includes the implementation of improved financial management, accountability and oversight, and we will continue to support the Secretary-General in his efforts.

The Lisbon summit set out a strategic direction in the new strategic concept. Of course, it does not command absolute agreement by all members of the alliance to every single item listed in it; we are a large alliance, operating by consensus, and, as in all forms of politics, we have to engage with each other in a constant process of persuasion to share and build common purposes. It is vital for alliances to retain this shared vision and to work together to implement it. The strategic concept and the plans to implement it are very much in line with the UK’s national security strategy and the outcome of our strategic defence and security review.

We welcome the emphasis on civil military planning and action throughout the conflict cycle and that is part of the comprehensive approach that we know we all have to develop. We look for closer EU-NATO co-operation. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will know, we still stub our toes on the issue of Cyprus and Turkey, but we are managing to build still closer relations between the EU and NATO, and we see that as very much the way that we need to go. As set out in the SDSR, we believe that UK membership of the European Union is a key part of our broad security international engagement and a key means of promoting security and prosperity in the European neighbourhood. The common security interests of all EU member states, NATO members or not, are served when they use their collective weight in the world to promote their shared interests and values, including on major foreign policy security concerns.

Noble Lords asked about NATO's nuclear posture. At the moment, we are debating the whole question of the future of tactical nuclear weapons. The NATO members are rather more committed so far to drawing down the number of nuclear weapons than our Russian partners with whom we are in dialogue, but as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, will know, the question of the future of NATO’s remaining free-fall nuclear weapons is one that is currently under discussion.

I will say a little about the UK Franco-British treaty. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that it is the Franco-British treaty and not the Anglo-French treaty. The Scots have been in military co-operation with the French rather longer than the English. Indeed, when Sir William Wallace was Guardian of Scotland, he was actively engaged in pursuing Scots-French military co-operation against the English—sadly, on that occasion without success, as the plaque commemorating his execution in Westminster Hall observes.

The historic treaty signed by the UK and France last November demonstrates our commitment to work together to address the challenges facing the alliance. It recognises that great defence and security co-operation will strengthen NATO as the foundation of our collective security and reaffirms the role that the European Union plays in strengthening international security. The return of France to the heart of NATO under the leadership of President Sarkozy is of course part of the context in which this new treaty has been signed. France and the UK will work together to help shape the new NATO strategic concept. But we are also working more closely together in implementing the concept. Closer co-operation makes great sense at a point where both countries face acute pressures on our defence budgets, where our approach to the deployment of troops abroad to the management of international conflict is very close and where, therefore, there is a great deal that we can share.

I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Lee, a direct answer on co-operation with the French on maritime surveillance, but I can promise that I will write to him. Closer co-operation will make our forces more interoperable. As the SDSR highlighted, our default position is to operate as a partner wherever we can. If that allows our forces to operate alongside each other more effectively in the future, that is an enormous advantage. There are those in both Houses and the British media who see that as a tremendous threat to British sovereignty. It is possible to overstate the sovereignty issue. In 1917-18, my father along with several hundred thousand other British troops, served under effective French command. It was not seen as a tremendous block in British sovereignty then. ISAF has been under French, Turkish, Danish and various other commands. We co-operate with others when British interests are at stake. That is the way we have to work in the world today.

We see the Franco-British treaty as a basis on which we can build and sustain other forms of co-operation with other European countries. The oldest and closest form of military co-operation that we have in Europe is the UK-Dutch marine amphibious force, now nearly 30 years old. The Ministry of Defence has just launched a Nordic initiative on military and security grounds, and we look forward to working more closely with others and helping to challenge other states to come up to scratch in their contribution to European military capabilities for the EU and NATO.

On NATO and Russia, we are working hard to develop a strong partnership focused on common interests. We face many common challenges in Afghanistan, as well as in counterterrorism, piracy and counternarcotics. We agreed at the Lisbon summit to work together and enhance our practical co-operation. That can be seen in agreement on transit routes to and from Afghanistan and in closer agreement in countering the narcotics trade that comes across central Asia into Europe. Future collaboration, particularly on missile defence, has the potential to improve NATO and Russia's security as well as our overall security relationship. We are continuing to negotiate with the Russians to modernise the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, the CFE.

On co-operation out of area, Afghanistan has of course taken us way out of area and has helped to transform NATO. I believe that 48 states, many of them not NATO members, are contributing to the allied effort in Afghanistan. Off Somalia there are Indian and Chinese ships working with British, Dutch and German ships in the anti-piracy control and in MONUSCO in the DRC we have Indian troops as the largest contingent and a British major-general as the second in command.

NATO is reinventing itself, but we need to ensure that the people of Britain and leaders in other countries continue to be supportive of what NATO’s changing role should be. I suppose that I should admit that I have form here, as in 1990 I spoke at a conference on the future of NATO in Brussels, arguing that NATO was unlikely to exist in 2000. In 2000, I published an article in Survival entitled “What is NATO for?”, implying that it was not very easy to answer that question. One has to say here in 2011 that NATO has adapted remarkably well and has enlarged very successfully. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that, yes, article 5 does apply to the new members. It was an astonishing achievement to provide security across central and eastern Europe to help to transform and integrate their armed forces, to give them the stability that underpinned their transition to democracy and prosperity. Enlargement will continue. The remaining countries in the western Balkans are moving at different paces towards membership. The question of Ukraine and Georgia is a long-term one, but the Bucharest summit in 2008 said that membership remained open to them.

The new strategic concept talks about the different sort of threats that we face. If there is a cyberattack on a NATO member as there was in Estonia, it is not entirely clear who was responsible—whether it was a state—and where it came from, so the response has to be much more complex. What we need, therefore, is more complex capabilities in return. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the reduction in resources faces us with major challenges. NATO, however, remains central to UK security and to the security of the European region. It is a resource for all of us to call on in managing global threats.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and hope that we will all continue to argue the case for European and Atlantic co-operation in security and argue it not only in London but in Berlin, Warsaw, Stockholm and many other capitals of Europe.

My Lords, all that remains for me to do is to thank all those who have taken part, particularly the two maiden speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, warned us that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, is an extremely good speaker and that we would all be doing very well to keep up with him. He was very right. The noble Lord, Lord Flight, pointed out to us in an aside the place that we did not mention until my noble friend proposed it—in global security terms, India will indeed be a player of considerable note.

We will probably have to return to this debate again, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, said, because the situation will change. The general consensus is that NATO has survived from its original purpose to go on and to do something else. We must observe what that is while being aware that it will probably not be something which we are predicting at the moment. However, any organisation that brings together 28 states, some of which were formerly potential enemies, must have something going for it. With that thought, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion withdrawn.

Radioactive Waste Management: Science and Technology Committee Report

Motion to Take Note

Moved By

That this House takes note of the Report of the Science and Technology Committee on Radioactive Waste Management: a further update (2nd Report, Session 2009–10, HL Paper 95).

My Lords, before discussing the Science and Technology Select Committee’s report, Radioactive Waste Management: a further update, I wish to compliment the coalition and the previous Government on their firm support for nuclear power as a major component in the UK’s energy strategy. At last, we seem to be moving forward and the Minister and the Government are to be congratulated.

The Revised Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6) identifies eight sites that are judged by the Government potentially to be suitable for new power stations before 2025. We are told in paragraph B.4.1 of annexe B of EN-6 that the first such station is expected to start generating electricity in 2018. This would not set any records in terms of timescale. Anne Lauvergeon, CEO of Areva, told us in a Royal Academy of Engineering lecture last week that the Chinese are building power stations in 48 months, but China’s ability to focus with singular determination is unlikely to be achievable in this country, or in fact in any of our competitor nations in the west. However, after more than two decades, we are at least on the move.

That is particularly gratifying to the members of the Science and Technology Select Committee. For more than a decade, the committee has been on record as supporting nuclear power as the most predictably affordable source of low-carbon electricity. We have long held the view that, without it, the expense of meeting our carbon reduction targets would be impossible. To get this far, it has been important to change the public perception of the risks of nuclear power and, especially, to persuade people that it is possible safely to dispose of the various grades of waste that will be produced in the new plants. Again, significant progress has been made in the past few years through the efforts both of the many engineering and science organisations and of this and the previous Government, so to a large extent most of the political obstacles that have prevented us from even getting started have been removed.

We need, however, to be continually vigilant that transparency is maintained so that public superstition is not reawakened, and we must be aware that we are yet actually to do anything practical in terms of geological storage. The scale of what has to be done is huge and it is necessary that we dispel what has appeared to be a sense of complacency and replace it with a sense of urgency. This is perhaps the main point that I wish to make this afternoon. Some of the targets laid out in EN-6 for getting solutions in place for storing waste are too late.

Turning to the committee’s report, let me here express my thanks and appreciation to the noble Lords who will be speaking in this debate, despite the fact that it has been scheduled late on Thursday afternoon. At the end of 2009, the Science and Technology Select Committee decided, largely because we were concerned about the perceived complacency, that we would look at the matter once again and conduct a short inquiry. This was the fifth time that the committee had reported on the subject of radioactive waste management—the first was in 1999. As there was little point in repeating what had already been said, it was decided to limit the inquiry to assessing how the reconstructed Committee on Radioactive Waste Management—CoRWM—had performed over the previous two years and gauging its impact on the implementation of the Government’s managing radioactive waste safely—MRWS—programme.

We limited ourselves to a single evidence-taking session. We were fortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the then Minister for Energy and Climate Change in DECC and his colleagues were able to answer our questions as were the chairman of CoRWM, Professor Robert Pickard, and his colleagues. I thank them all for their time and for their submissions to the committee. Subsequently, in November 2010, we received the Government’s response to our report from the new Government’s Minister of State in DECC, Mr Charles Hendry. It is Mr Hendry’s response that I will address today. I also thank and acknowledge Christine Salmon, clerk to the Science and Technology Committee, and her colleagues for supporting the committee so well, and especially Antony Willott, clerk to the sub-committee that conducted the inquiry, and from whose clear and concise drafts the report emerged.

The first three recommendations in the report concern how we feel the Government should respond to recommendations made by CoRWM. We urge the Government to act—and be seen to act—upon CoRWM’s recommendations that the Government should publish an annual report setting out what action has been taken towards meeting CoRWM’s other recommendations and also enable CoRWM to effectively monitor the Government’s progress in implementing its recommendations.

It was gratifying that Mr Hendry in his response committed to producing an annual report to Parliament which will be published, with copies provided to CoRWM as well as other stakeholders. The response said that the report will include progress towards meeting the commitments given by Government as a result of CoRWM’s recommendations, as well as indications of progress towards milestones. However, there is no mention of this in EN-6. Paragraph B.3.7—in volume II of the revised draft national policy statement—says that,

“the Government … will provide annual reports to Parliament on the progress of the MRWS programme”,

but it does not mention CoRWM. I hope that this is an oversight and I would like the Minister to reassure us that the report will describe specifically what has been done to meet CoRWM’s recommendations. CoRWM is the independent body that the public will want to see is being listened to. The MRWS is a Government-driven programme, so reassurance that everything is going according to plan will come best from CoRWM. Let us not forget the lesson that we have learned about transparency and openness in communicating with the public.

Several of our recommendations relate to the need to develop a sense of urgency in the implementation of the MRWS programme and in the time-line for the programme. The NDA’s present plan is to place the first waste, which will be intermediate-level legacy waste, in a geological disposal facility in 2040. This is based on taking four years to complete desk-based studies of potential candidate sites, 10 years of seismic surveys and borehole investigations and 15 years of underground operations, including research, initial construction and commissioning. It is also pointed out that the overall timing will depend on the communities involved in the process. This schedule should be re-examined with the intent of introducing as much parallelism as possible. It should certainly be possible to pursue planning and consultation at the same time that several of the technical issues are being investigated. It should not be necessary to do everything sequentially.

The first high-level legacy waste will not be stored until 2075. Rather incredibly, EN-6 states that waste from new nuclear plants will not be placed in geological storage until 2130, when the storage of legacy waste has been completed. Setting dates 119 years ahead is bizarre. It would be like making plans for future telegraph systems in 1892, seven years before JJ Thomson discovered the electron. Nobody then, even in their wildest dreams, could have predicted that in 2011 there would be an internet based on optical fibres, silicon and glass switches called transistors, and magnetic and optical storage of books and moving pictures, any more than we can, with any credibility, predict where we will be in 2130, other than to say that if we have not completed the storage of our existing legacy waste by then we must surely have chosen the wrong method.

All of what I have been saying so far has related to geological storage, but it is also important to have a more detailed time-line for intermediate storage so that CoRWM can monitor this as well as the progress towards geological storage. There is some confusion about this in the government response, which says,

“it is not envisaged that detailed interim storage milestones will be included”,

in the NDA plans, but it goes on to say,

“an Integrated Project Team (IPT) made up of NDA, Site Licensing Companies and other waste owners … has a clear work programme as well as agreed milestones”.

I ask the Minister please to clarify the situation with respect to the availability of a comprehensive time-line for intermediate waste storage.

At present there are several different forms of intermediate storage and it is important that rapid progress is made with all of them. This is particularly important for the legacy waste, especially that stored in the water tanks at Sellafield which present such huge difficulties. This waste will have to be removed to intermediate storage before it can be placed in geological storage. The risks of leaving the waste where it is are considerable and must be reduced. I ask the Minister, in clarifying the time-line for intermediate waste storage, to be specific about when the content of these water tanks will be removed and placed in safer containers and the tanks themselves demolished. I appreciate that the Minister may not have this information at hand, but it would be very useful if the committee could have this.

The Select Committee is concerned that there be a co-ordinated and adequately funded R&D programme for radioactive waste, especially for higher activity waste disposal. The committee noted that the first recommendation in CoRWM’s October 2009 report on R&D was that,

“Government ... ensures that there is strategic co-ordination of UK R&D for the management of higher activity wastes”.

I was troubled therefore to read the Government's response to this recommendation in their November 2010 response to the CoRWM report, which goes on for three pages describing the plethora of committees and advisory bodies that were responsible for co-ordinating R&D and concludes in paragraph 3.10 that there is the need to which I have referred. The paragraph states:

“The Government will consider with the NDA whether a re-focussed Board can determine how best to get broader strategic coordination”.

I would be grateful if the Minister could give us an update on progress in co-ordinating R&D.

Finally, we recommended that CoRWM formally provides the Government with independent advice on draft, as well as established, policies that have implications for the management of radioactive waste, and we note with pleasure that this has been largely accepted.

To end on another positive note, most of the issues that we have had with the way in which CoRWM prepares its reports have been resolved, and overall we commend CoRWM for its rigorous approach to evidence gathering and stakeholder engagement. It is pleasing that the Select Committee's concerns about the lack of members with experience of business and practical on-site operations and engineering have also been resolved. I beg to move.

I am happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Broers, who was a most effective chairman in the short period that we had to look at this issue. The fact that this was one of a continuum of investigations into this difficult area does not necessarily mean that progress has not been made. However, when one realises that the report was published on 25 March 2010, the Government responded on 9 October 2010 and we are debating this on 10 February 2011, one gets a sense that there is a wee bit of frustration about this topic.

The noble Lord, Lord Broers, in his remarks today and in the publication of the report, reflected our concern about the apparent lack of urgency. In some respects, this is still the story with CoRWM. However, looking back to when CoRWM was first established, the seeds of doubt were certainly sowed in my mind that at that time its establishment was a device of the then Labour Government Ministers to give credence to the argument that in the absence of a clear and proper strategy for waste disposal and storage no more nuclear power stations should be built in this country. That is an assertion that we still hear echoed on certain parts of the opposition Benches; but I will not go any further down that road today.

Suffice to say, timetables have always apparently been relaxed, procedures have sometimes been unnecessarily rigorous, and programmes have always been long term. I know that there have been changes in personnel and that timescales have been shortened. Perhaps the leisurely approach to this intellectually challenging subject is not quite as relaxed and easy as it once was. Regarding our first recommendation, in which we spoke of the need for effective action, it is certainly fair to say that part of that challenge has been met by the public expenditure settlement that the Government arrived at with the NDA. There is now a clear basis of leadership in the NDA and a secure sense of budgetary security within the agency and it is therefore able to see the future that much more clearly.

It is also worth pointing out that the Government are consulting. I give them credit for that. I suppose that I should declare an interest as the chair of the Nuclear Industries Association. There is also fixed-price decommissioning and waste transfer pricing. The cognoscenti certainly know what I am talking about. It relates to a consultation document about the future pricing of electricity, which will take account of the new-build waste that will be part of what the storage facilities will have to accommodate.

We know that a far clearer view is emerging on how to deal with the waste. In some respects, there was always a clear view, in so far as there were examples from Sweden and Finland of how the waste could be treated and stored effectively. The confidence with which the Finns are going ahead, despite their difficulties with the construction of their nuclear plant, is based on the knowledge that they are happy that they are able to deal with their new nuclear waste. The problem, hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Broers, is that we have the prospect not only of new waste from new power stations, but of sizeable amounts of waste from Magnox stations, and even greater amounts from our nuclear weapons programme. Some of the liability will become an asset if we are able successfully to address the challenges which a new Mox plant would create. Building a Mox plant that can transform some of the waste into Mox fuel for future use in our new power stations will be of considerable assistance and will reduce some of the burden of waste which we have to confront.

That brings me on to the timescale. In some respects, we as a committee were disappointed that we were being told, in a sense, that, “Everything will be all right. There will be four more years of desk-based analysis; then we will have test bores and the like for another 10 years. In the interim period, we will probably have the acceptance of sites by local communities; and then we will have 15 years until the waste is received—taking us until 2040”. It seemed to me and to a number of my colleagues in the committee that little attention was paid to the possibility of reprocessing waste, of improvements in mining technology or of geological storage. The noble Lord, Lord Broers, very eloquently showed off his scientific expertise in the context of telecommunications. I was able to point out that it seems daft that we are talking about a number of the challenges not being met for another 120 years. One of our concerns—it has in part been addressed by government—related to the composition of the committee. I have no complaint about the appointment of the people who are on it, but I thought that others should have been on it—people with not just geoscience qualifications but experience in finance, project management and risk management who could give a realistic idea of what work the implementation of the science would involve. I know that the Government are going some way in seeking to deal with that, and I hope that we can get a better balance in the committee. That is not a criticism of its membership; it is just that I think the membership base has been too narrow.

I certainly welcome the undertaking that there will be ministerial involvement in the Geological Disposal Implementation Board because it is important that there is political accountability throughout this process. Although we have been able to secure in the Government’s response some measure of acceptance of the need for greater transparency, the presence of a Minister on a board of this nature is of some significance.

With regard to the role of CoRWM and the fact that it has to give independent advice to government, we know that there has sometimes been over-rigorous preparation of papers—perhaps I may use the expression “over-engineering”. Sometimes perhaps it has elaborated and deliberated rather longer than it needed to. However, we certainly also have to recognise that a degree of caution must be exercised when papers are being published in what might well be regarded as draft form. We were somewhat worried that, when papers emerge into the public domain and the word “draft” is written on them in very light pencil, that can create a lot of confusion. “Caution” is one of the watchwords that we always have to bear in mind when we deal with nuclear matters. We have to be careful not to frighten people unnecessarily. On the one hand, it is exciting and important that the science and the challenges that science offers can be embraced, but equally we have to avoid leaving ourselves open to sniping from people who are always prepared to challenge every aspect of nuclear, whether a challenge is merited or not.

I do not want to appear carping in my criticism of the delay in the Government’s response. Having been the chair of a Select Committee in the other place, I know that we used to try to screw them down to a six-week response period. However, there has been a change of government—there have even been changes of policy within ministries in recent months—so there is a reason for the delay. In some respects, we are able to debate this issue now knowing that the whole question of CoRWM and the work in which it is engaged will be on a sound financial footing. The NDA is going to be able to look at this in a far more constructive way than it has done before.

We see a clearer role for CoRWM in relation to this revitalised NDA and, therefore, if we can get a slightly more pragmatic approach, which is a little more urgent in character, we can begin to think of things more in the short term than we have in the past, so that 2040 might not seem quite so far away if it becomes 2035 for the best of reasons. It might be that the 120-year time span for the legacy to be completed and for other forms of waste to be stored could be reduced as well. I think that the work of CoRWM and the work of the Select Committee in producing the report will have gone some way to accelerating the process, which still needs a shove and constant monitoring.

I hope that this will not be the last debate that we have on this subject. I hope also that the successor Science and Technology Select Committee will have a similar inquiry in the future and that it will be even more positive than we have been so far.

My Lords, I genuinely welcome this report by the noble Lord, Lord Broers. I had not realised that this was the fifth in the series—I had counted up to three. I highly recommend that he keeps on the same track and that we have more, especially because of the timescale that has already been mentioned. Reading it afresh earlier this week, I found it quite strange because it referred to evidence from “the Minister” and that was the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I wondered whether I had gone through a time warp or whether matters had changed yet again somehow. The fact that this report has taken almost a year is, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, has said, a symptom of the problem, although I clearly understand that there was a general election in between.

This is a really important core subject. The previous Government were and this Government are entering into an era of new nuclear capacity, so there will be waste from that new industry. We already have significant waste from the current nuclear industry, the so-called legacy waste. I looked up how much we have and it is 1,700 cubic metres of high-level waste, 92,000 cubic metres of medium-level waste, rising to 3 million cubic metres of low-level waste. That is quite a challenge.

One thing that concerns me most about the nuclear industry is not so much security, important though that is, but the fact that we have not yet solved the problem of waste, not only from something that we have already created but also as regards the new era we are entering into. When we looked at the draft national policy statements for nuclear power generation, I was concerned that in part 2 of that report it simply said:

“Annex B of this NPS sets out how the Government has satisfied itself that effective arrangements will exist for the management and disposal of the wastes produced by new nuclear power stations”.

It goes on to say in another paragraph:

“The question of whether effective arrangements will exist to manage and dispose of the waste that will be produced from new nuclear power stations has therefore been addressed by the Government and the IPC should not consider this further”.

As a rational human being, let alone parliamentarian, that concerns me greatly. With this new programme, we already have a problem with waste, yet even in the planning process we assume that we have solved the problem when clearly we have not. That is why I welcome this report and I welcome very strongly the Government’s response to it, which I think has been extremely positive on the recommendations. I support the fact that CoRWM should become increasingly independent, that it should steer its own programme, that there should be milestones and transparency and that there should be an annual parliamentary report, which is particularly important because of the timescales.

I come back to timing, and the committee’s concern in its report that this matter is not given sufficient urgency. During debate in Grand Committee on the national policy statements, we were all shocked when my noble friend said, because the policy was inherited from the previous Government:

“The revised draft national policy statement reflects that we currently expect the geological disposal facility to be ready to take new build waste in 2130”.—[Official Report, 13/01/11; col. GC 151.]

Looking backwards, that is the equivalent of the 1890s. That is my greatest concern from the report. It begs the obvious question—I know that my noble friend has similar concerns—of where we now think that those timescales will lie. The year 2140 is not so far away, but if we are talking about another 120 years until we can cope with the waste created by new build, we have a real problem in our planning for the industry.

That is all I want to say about the report except to follow up some questions that arise from it, which have often been mentioned by other noble Lords. First, on waste minimisation, my noble friend said that he had commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of Mox. I would be interested to hear if he has an update of that. In waste disposal internationally, Finland has moved on with its Olkiluoto facility. Have the Government learnt any lessons from that which mean that our facilities can be brought forward? Are the Government thinking further about fusion technology? I know that there are all sorts of questions about that, but that is a way to use nuclear waste for further energy and to neutralise its effects. Lastly, I come back to the question of the timescale. It is not right that we move ahead with a new nuclear programme until we are a little more clear about how we are to clear up the mess that we have already created.

My Lords, I thank the Science and Technology Sub-Committee for its short report on the performance of CoRWM in the implementation of the managing radioactive waste safely programme. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Broers, on the excellent way in which he introduced the report. It has been a very useful and worthwhile assessment of this important policy area. We note that the Committee's recommendations have been welcomed and accepted by the Government.

With the Government's policy to re-emphasise new nuclear as a key element of the UK energy mix and the timetable for new plants to become operational, we on these Benches welcome the acceptance of the commitment to get on with the recommendations, and hope that effective action is implemented with greater urgency.

All speakers today have drawn attention to the general feeling that drift continues. The committee made two key recommendations to track progress and ensure that timeliness is maintained by the Government. The first is the publication of an annual report, and we welcome the committee's recommendation in this regard. In their response to the report, at paragraph 16, the Government said that they,

“will develop a clear high level timeline for publication”.

Can the Minister give us any update today on when the annual report will be published?

The second of those key recommendations is for milestones to be laid out for the monitoring of progress. Again at paragraph 16 of their response, the Government agree with this recommendation for the annual report,

“setting out indicative timescales and milestones on the programme of work”.

The committee's report, published in March 2010, said at paragraph 20 that it understood that the National Decommissioning Agency would shortly be publishing a document, Steps Towards Implementation. Can the Minister today update the House on progress of the publication of these documents? The noble Lord, Lord Broers, has also drawn attention to and expressed concern over the lack of publications coming forward. If the Government could be seen from the outset to be forthcoming in their commitments they would, through this transparency, build the confidence of the public.

The report also provided guidance to CoRWM with recommendations that it applies its usual rigorous approach to all publications; that it focuses its activities where it can concentrate on the science, with evidence-based advice; and that it widens the skill set of its membership with the addition of experience from practical business operations and engineering. We note this undercurrent of anxiety concerning CoRWM, and welcome the agreement in the Government's response and comments on the expertise of CoRWM members that the requirements of CoRWM will change over time. The noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, has made the case powerfully today that a widening of this expertise at an early stage would be helpful in bringing forward activity. We agree that a science-based approach must be right and vital in building confidence and the participation of communities in developing opportunities. We call for science to seek to use innovation to reduce the cost burden.

In the energy debate at the start of the year the Minister underlined that the nuclear industry will not receive any subsidy and must pay for all its costs, including reprocessing and waste storage. The UK has some of the most developed decommissioning infrastructure in the world, as well as associated indigenous capability. Given that the Secretary of State expresses frustration that half his department’s budget is spent on decommissioning and clean-up costs associated with the oldest nuclear plant, has a review been undertaken on the progress at Sellafield, and can the Minister say whether he is satisfied with the work being undertaken in regard to its quality, results to date and pace of progress? In paragraph 6 of the government response to the report, the Government agree that research and development needs to be appropriately funded. Are the Government satisfied that the funding is there? Can the Minister confirm where it is coming from and that it has not and will not become another victim of government cuts?

It is encouraging that progress is being made in the identification of sites for storage. Although it is recognised that all the implications for both short and long-term storage are important, does the Minister nevertheless agree that the pressure for more and more geological research must not be overbalanced in the search for the perfect at the expense of the fit-for-purpose? A robust tendering process is enhanced by the competitive tension from alternative sites. We welcome the expression of interest from Cumbria, but I press the Minister on what action the Government are taking to stimulate interest from other local communities. We would welcome an update from the Minister on any action and any progress that has been made recently.

Experience gained by UK businesses through their involvement in domestic decommissioning is highly significant in developing UK capacity in specialist decommissioning activities. Much of the dialogue has been focused in Cumbria. Cumbria has developed its west coast economic strategy with support from the North West Development Agency, and is progressing its partnership programmes to deliver benefits in developing the UK skills base and hub of technical innovation that will be vital to the nuclear industry, compatible with the nuclear new-build programme and transferable to a range of other sectors. Will the Minister update the House on what activities his department has undertaken to encourage investment? Does he agree that the challenges that these activities bring require the development of centres of excellence, in which Cumbria and the UK could lead?

The report underlines the importance of concentrating on the accepted solution strategy of interim storage followed by deep geological long-term capacity. The Minister will understand that we regard the security of these sites as being of the highest importance. We know that he shares our view because he assured your Lordships that he was personally reviewing the security of these sites, including Sellafield, during the debate on the national policy statement on nuclear on Thursday 13 January. Is he satisfied with the operation of the current security arrangements and the management and operation of the civil nuclear police service? Is he able to update the House on the progress of this review? When does he expect it to be concluded?

The global market for nuclear commissioning services will grow considerably over the next 20 years. We understand that the industry is confident that it is leading the way in four key aspects regarding managing radioactive waste safely—namely, understanding the challenges, focusing resources, encouraging innovation, and driving progress—which will deliver a distinct advantage to the UK in playing a major world role and in securing future contracts. What activity has the Minister’s department done at an international level to develop rigour and consistency in standards for nuclear waste storage?

We have had a very interesting debate on a subject on which your Lordships’ House shows great expertise. It is a vital area of public policy on which we expect the Government to come forward with further information at the shortest interval possible. We greatly look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords who have spoken, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Broers, who instigated this valuable debate, and to the committee for its work and recommendations. We have covered a number of key areas, and I hope I cover some of the questions raised, if not all of them, in my remarks.

We all recognise that radioactive waste management is complex and probably not the most exciting area in the world. However, it is a very complex and important subject, particularly as we move into the arena of new nuclear, which has not happened for 27 years. I do not want to underplay the fact that we have given the green light for new nuclear where nothing has happened in the past. This is a very big strategic decision, and I am glad it finds favour on all sides of the House. In the past, I have complimented the contribution by the now opposition Benches in changing public attitudes towards new nuclear when they were in government. That gave us a springboard, but we acted upon it, and it is important that that is taken on board. I also want to make it clear that the Government take these issues with great responsibility. Ultimately, we will make the decisions. We welcome reports and advice, and we are very open to them, but ultimately we will decide how to manage radioactive waste safely and fairly using the available evidence and analysis and the contributions that we get from all sides of the House.

The NDA is the UK’s competent body responsible for that, particularly in respect of nuclear waste. The NDA reports to government. I compliment the previous Government, who sorted out a serious problem in the management of the NDA. I believe that the NDA is now a well run organisation. We in government have a great deal of confidence in it. It reports to me personally, I have an excellent working relationship with it, and I want to pay compliment to the work it is doing. As a Government and as Members of this House, we must trust and empower it to operate and act in this extremely difficult area.

I shall refer to the progress we have made on geological disposal. As all noble Lords have said, this is a timeline that most of us cannot associate with. I may be around in 2040; some noble Lords may not be. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will be. The noble Lord is quite right that, if we look backwards, 1890—when some of the noble Lords opposite were born—seems like an awful long time ago. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, knows what I am talking about, I think. It is a timeline that is very difficult to associate with and a timeline that we have to improve. It would be irresponsible if we did not. However, it is not entirely dependent on us. It is set by the co-operation of the people of Cumbria, who are critical to this process. Since we have been in Government, we have published an indicative timeline for implementation. As I have said, that is not enough. We want to reduce it. We have agreed to produce an annual report to Parliament on progress and we are committed to improving the timeline, which noble Lords will see as we progress. We have established the Geological Disposal Implementation Board chaired by my colleague the Minister of State for Energy, Charles Hendry, to enhance accountability for delivery.

We have carried out and have published the initial geological screening of the volunteer area in West Cumbria. We have supported the second round of the West Cumbrian MRWS Partnership’s formal public and stakeholder engagement programme and have agreed a strong funding settlement for NDA in the latest spending round to enable it to make progress in this area. However, it is much more important that we send messages to the people of Cumbria that Cumbria can become a nuclear place of excellence. We have indicated that it can be the site for a new nuclear power station.

I shall come to the Mox plant later, but the hopeful signs of such a plant, which have been sitting in the wings for years, will give good encouragement to the community. I hope that the community will feel that we are supporting them and establishing them as a centre of excellence, and that they will respond by supporting us in the geological storage timelines.

On Mox, on Monday, I launched the consultation on the management options for the UK plutonium stocks. We have the largest plutonium stocks in the world, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, has rightly said. I think we agree that it is time to get to grips with this issue and to develop a coherent, strategic and comprehensive plan for the future. There is no point in having this enormous amount of waste sitting there when we can turn it, we hope, into revenue or less cost. That is what the consultation will look at.

I have done some cost evaluations with the NDA. We have sought advice from a number of the experts in this field in reviewing it. Through this consultation process, we should be able to deliver clear signals, which is our ambition. But if at the end of the day that ambition cannot be met with reality of cost, of course we will not do it. As I mentioned earlier, it sends clear signals to Sellafield and the people of Cumbria that we are very committed to that part of the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Broers, and other noble Lords rightly mentioned the importance of high hazard. I was deeply concerned when I visited the high hazard sites and saw the lack of progress. As a result, the first thing I did in the spending review was to negotiate with the Treasury, in very difficult times, an increase in spending for the NDA so that we could tackle and confront these issues head on. We have reduced by two years the timescale of dealing with the emptying of silos. We should have completion of that by 2016 to 2018. This fundamental increase in timescale needs to be carried out because it is in the national interest. We are putting real energy and significance into this. The NDA is under no illusions that this is the main priority of this Government.

The Minister made reference earlier to the ambition of creating a centre of excellence in the north-west and Sellafield. Does he agree that such a centre of excellence at present exists in so far as we have the National Nuclear Laboratory, which is engaged in fantastic work and will greatly facilitate the achievement of the ambitions that I think we all share?

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, for pulling me up on that point. He is right that a centre of excellence exists. There is no question about what he has just said. The most important point is that we continue to have Cumbria as a centre of excellence and that in times of recession that is put beyond doubt for the people who live there.

CoRWM has provided three formal reports to government since 2008, alongside numerous position papers and regular informal advice. The three formal reports cover the government policy areas of geological disposal, interim storage and associated R&D. I accept the important point that the papers should be clearly marked, placed and presented. CoRWM now explains the nature of its papers, but I take on board the point that was made.

We have responded to the reports and are committed to responding to all CoRWM’s substantive advice. We look forward to further discussions with it and to receiving ongoing advice, as we do from all experts in this area, particularly the committee.

I turn to the committee’s recommendations. We believe that there should be the right mix of personnel, as the noble Lords, Lord Broers and Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, rightly mentioned. Over time, the precise skill set required may vary. We need to ensure that CoRWM changes correspondingly to confront the various issues arising out of contemporary nuclear needs. Currently, the committee is split between two-year and four-year appointments. We will look to refresh the membership in time for the current two-year terms ending in 2012. The committee may also co-opt additional expertise to support its examination of specific topics and utilise other appropriate means of securing expert input, such as sponsored meetings or seminars.

I return to R&D, which is of fundamental importance and again touches on the matter of a centre of excellence. We have instructed the NDA to reconstitute the R&D board and to co-ordinate an R&D strategy. I say in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that we will look at its recommendations extremely favourably, as we have done so far by increasing our financial support for it.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to fusion. As he well knows—he asks me this as a trick question— that is not a subject for my department. I would be happy to go at length into the subject of fusion, but as he is closely associated with BIS, I can with great confidence expect him to discuss it with that department.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, drew my attention to a point that I had made on the subject of nuclear security. We are undertaking a significant review. I thank previous Ministers, including the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who kindly gave me advice on the subject. He indicated that we should consider a review of the current and future security of nuclear sites, because the issue is ongoing and we must make sure that they are fit for purpose. I am undertaking that review at the moment. It is throwing up a lot of interesting subjects and we will report on it in the near future. I assure the House that this is a high-priority item for us, and that I will be happy to keep noble Lords involved in any decisions.

In summary, I hope that noble Lords, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Broers, do not think that we are sitting back and accepting airy-fairy timescales, or that we are not committed to doing things. We have increased the spend on solving our waste problems; we are attacking the incredibly long-term geological timescale for dealing with waste; we are looking at how we can make the best of our plutonium stock and turn it into an asset; and we are taking very seriously the high-hazard problems that we have encountered. I commend my fellow Ministers and officials for the great amount of work that they are doing. I also thank the committee and all those involved in the subject for the great advice that they give us. We have an open-door policy and welcome advice and support. This is not something that can happen today or next year; it is a 10-year programme that transcends governments, and all of us must work together with great energy and commitment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging response. I am particularly pleased that he has been to Sellafield and seen some of the problems, which has spurred him to action. I am encouraged that he has sought additional funds and that the Government are putting their mind to pulling in some of these schedules, which are—I had to use the word—bizarre in the extreme.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken today. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his detailed analysis and strong support for the report. I thank the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan, who played such a senior role in the industry and therefore speaks with such authority. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, conscientiously follows all matters of energy and his views are highly respected.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.11 pm.