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Grand Committee

Volume 726: debated on Monday 4 April 2011

Grand Committee

Monday, 4 April 2011.

My Lords, it has been agreed that, should any of the Questions for Short Debate not run for their allotted hour this afternoon, the Committee will adjourn during pleasure until the end of the hour. Therefore, each of the Questions for Short Debate will start at half-past the hour. Of course, in accordance with normal practice, if there should be a Division in the House, we will immediately adjourn for 10 minutes. If necessary, time can then be added to the time for the Question for Short Debate—what I would describe as injury time.

Health and Safety at Work

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how their proposed changes to the health and safety system will encourage safer and healthier work places.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to have at least a short debate on issues of health and safety. It gives us the opportunity to take stock in light of recent developments, including implementation of the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham; the impact of the spending review and the 35 per cent reduction in funding for the HSE; and the recent pronouncements of 21 March by the Minister for Employment.

It was not my intent today to cover issues around the HSE’s role in nuclear inspection, but I hope that the report under way by the UK’s chief nuclear inspector will provide this opportunity in due course. Nor do I intend to dwell on major hazard industries, not because they are not extremely important but because the coalition Government have seemingly, and sensibly, determined that regulation of these industries is soundly based and in accordance with best international practice.

Our concern around recent developments is the central message being promulgated, which is that much action on health and safety is burdensome to business and unnecessary. The focus is on what RoSPA refers to as “over-hitting” on health and safety, rather than on underperformance. There is also very little focus on occupational health.

So it is worth reminding ourselves why health and safety is so important. The prevention of death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work activities is not only a legal imperative and a moral one; it is good business. The costs to business of health and safety failures are potentially wide ranging: direct costs of sick pay, compensation, fines; loss on a temporary or long-term basis of employee skills; costs of temporary cover, reputational damage and possible exclusions from procurement opportunities. For individuals and their families the consequences can be devastating—the loss of a loved one, aspirations blighted, family finances wrecked.

We know that good health and safety is linked to leadership of an organisation and that organisations which have good health and safety systems tend to have good management systems, and better economic performance. We also know that the benefits of worker engagement can improve health and safety outcomes but that hardly gets a mention these days—certainly not trade unions and the significant contribution that they have made to the training of safety reps, which is just one example. For government the gains should be obvious; stopping people falling out of work avoids the cost of benefits, retains tax revenues and obviates recourse to expensive back-to-work programmes.

So, given all of this, it is surprising that little effort on the part of the Government is being directed at improving our performance as a country and promoting the strong benefits of the system that we have; rather, there is the focus on health and safety being a burden on business. I will not repeat all the figures, but last year 28.5 million days were lost to workplace ill health and injury. Over 500,000 workers suffered from MSDs, and nearly as many from stress, depression or anxiety. Some 152 people were killed at work, and 740 in work-related road accidents. The cost to the UK economy is many billions of pounds each year. Despite the fact that we have a very strong record in comparison to other countries, there is still much to do.

So how are these recent developments helping? The report of the noble Lord, Lord Young, focused little on occupational health and what might improve our health and safety performance but had wider significance around personal injury claims, food hygiene rating schemes and so on. Nevertheless, positive developments have flowed from the report, perhaps the most important being the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register. This was formally opened for business by the 21 March announcement but had been in gestation for some time. The health and safety professional bodies which have co-operated with the HSE in bringing it to fruition are to be congratulated, especially IOSH, which has long campaigned for an accreditation scheme. It will provide better reassurance for purchasers of services, helping to tackle the problem of unqualified or unscrupulous consultants who overcharge and overprescribe, adding costs for business and adding to a culture of unnecessary risk aversion.

One of the enduring strengths of our health and safety legislation and the management regulations is that they are non-prescriptive. They set out what must be achieved, not how something should be done. However, this creates a need for more help for some businesses, especially SMEs and micro-businesses. This theme was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Young, who proposed simplified risk assessments for what he described as low-hazard workplaces. The HSE has responded to this, although it does not appear to be developing the proposed periodic checklist, nor, thankfully, to be exempting employers of home workers or the self-employed from risk assessment. The launch of the website Health and Safety Made Simple with the March statement is to be welcomed.

I turn to what is described as the new health and safety framework. A central proposition of this is to reduce inspections for non-major-hazard industries. In particular, it proposes that there will no longer be proactive inspections for what are described as lower-risk areas, which include light engineering, electrical engineering, the transport sector—air, road haulage and docks—education, and electricity generation, nor for areas of concern such as agriculture, quarries, and health and social care, where such inspections are deemed unlikely to be effective.

Perhaps, in passing, I may comment further that the HSE’s website for January records that one of the successful prosecutions was of a high-voltage electrical engineering company where someone was prosecuted after an employee suffered serious burns from equipment carrying 11,000 volts. On the new basis, it would seemingly be a lower-risk area and not subject to proactive inspections, if I understand the intent. Perhaps the Minister can expand on the evidence base that was used to arrive at this determination. Has the analysis taken account of health issues, as well as the records of deaths and accidents? Do the Government reject the evidence that the prospect of inspections is an incentive for employers to improve?

We have considerable concerns over this blanket approach to designating great swathes of business as low hazard—effectively no-go areas until something goes wrong. As RoSPA suggests, should we not be focused on the risk profile of people’s jobs and not the hazard history of the sector in which they operate? How do the Government intend to monitor and report on this new approach?

Of course, proactive inspection is only one component of the HSE’s and LA’s preventive agenda. Joint working with industry is carried out at the moment and can be developed. The provision of advice and awareness-raising through, for example, safety and health awareness days, and press campaigns such as the Shattered Lives campaign concerning asbestos, have recently been cut back. Given that proactive inspections are to be curtailed, can the Minister say what the future is for these approaches? Is it right that there is still a moratorium on TB advertising, which has been in place since the purdah in the run-up to the general election? IOSH points out that the HSE Infoline is to be terminated later this year, which has provided a valuable source of information as well as a translation service. This has been particularly valuable to SMEs. What is to replace it?

The 21 March document makes it clear that HSE will continue to undertake inspections for enforcement purposes and to follow up on complaints, but seemingly only for those areas of high risk or those of concern. This suggests—perhaps the Minister will confirm it—that there will be no such inspections for those lower-risk areas. Is this right? Is there to be any change to the HSE’s enforcement policy? We obviously await the outcome of the consultation on RIDDOR concerning the manner of reporting, but, in this context, the demise of the Incident Contact Centre, which simplified the process of reporting and reduced admin burdens on business, would seem at least premature.

All this must be seen in the context of the CSR and the requirement for the HSE to achieve savings of 35 per cent over the period—about £80 million a year by 2014-15. Proposals for cost recovery associated with breaches of health and safety law will ameliorate the position to an extent, but it is clearly not possible for the HSE to maintain its current level of operations.

The Government have indicated that cuts can be achieved by administrative savings, but considerable savings have already been made, not least in accommodation costs with the consolidation of the head office in Bootle. What is the number of front-line inspectors projected to be over the CSR period and the capacity of the organisation to carry out even the projected new number of inspections? What are the plans for the construction sector in particular, and is it right that the 20 inspectors on fixed contracts are not to be replaced? The construction sector has come a long way but, as we know, is still high-risk. If not through proactive inspection, how are issues in agriculture, another dangerous industry, to be addressed?

Finally, we have the review of health and safety regulation to be led by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt. We could not object to this, albeit that the starting premise carries the implication of gold-plating despite evidence to the contrary. One hopes that the review will put that myth to bed once and for all, but it would be helpful if the Minister could say when final terms of reference will be available.

Our country has been well served by our health and safety system, by our national and local authority regulators and by that committed and knowledgeable range of stakeholders who are key to past success and future progress. There are those who will continue to misrepresent or misuse the system, sometimes deliberately, sometimes through ignorance. We all have to make the case for H&S, the Government above all.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for this debate today, because it gives us an excellent opportunity to pick up on some of the issues which were extensively debated on 25 November last year, when we discussed the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham. Since the Government said that they were going to implement the report’s recommendations, the debate gives us the opportunity also to test how far they have gone. I am pleased to see that there has been considerable progress. In particular, the framework document before us, Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone, lays down a shape for health and safety for the future. However, like all frameworks, it is has skeletal aspects, which give us plenty of opportunity to probe the Minister for some of the detailed answers that we require.

I welcome the appointment of Professor Löfstedt to conduct the review of legislation in this area. He is eminently qualified and it is a welcome step. However, I am somewhat mystified to read that his terms of reference are to be determined by the professor himself. Some of us may think that if you hand someone a blank piece of paper they will write down what their predispositions are, whereas clearly it is the Government’s predispositions which are important. It is not clear from the document but I suspect that the Government have laid out a framework in which these terms of reference are to be placed. As a starting point, will the Minister provide Members of the Committee with a copy of the fully worked-up and detailed terms of reference as soon as possible, together with a timetable for his work, so that we can have an opportunity to look at those matters further?

An overarching principle is that health and safety is not only for companies, workers and the health and safety representative but for everyone. It is for all of us in a working environment and it is not to be seen only as the province of one responsible person. We have gained a great deal in this country from the work that has been done so far, but there is still more to be done. Certainly a great deal of streamlining is necessary, and some of the corners in the system which have been difficult for companies to turn can be made smooth and straightened out.

I suspect that this is about trying to draw the appropriate balance between not having too rigorous a regulatory regime with too great a burden on employers and making sure that we protect individuals at work. This could be seen as a continuum between the risk averse at one end and the risk takers at the other. I prefer to see this as a new way of looking at the “risk intelligent” approach, in which everyone in the workforce—the employers and the employees—need to be intelligent about risk. Intelligence, of course, is a key word for more knowledge, more skill and more training. A better understanding is at the root of this.

At the heart of this new framework, on pages 8 and 9, are the main changes that are to be made. There are two clear focuses: first, on those who flout the rules; and, secondly, on high-risk locations. I shall take them separately. On the first point, it is difficult to know who flouts the rules without inspections; then you can know who is not following the rules. Can the Minister tell the Committee how you know who is flouting the rules? If it is to be through an enhanced whistleblower approach, that is fine by me. However, it needs to be spelled out more clearly because there are difficulties in whistleblowing alone, as people will not want to upset their employer, particularly in a small company where they are fearful for their jobs. We need to be careful and define more clearly how we outline the companies who flout the rules. It is easy, of course, if they have done it once and you know who they are, to come back upon people and to redouble your efforts. Under the terminology in the DWP press release, once these “rogue” companies are discovered and investigated, they will have to pay for being helped to put things right—which is perfectly appropriate—but how do we find the “rogues”?

On the second issue, regarding high-risk locations, I was tempted, and I set my mind to trying, to find a route through to something that is to be described as non-high risk. I came up with an opencast facility in Merthyr Tydfil, where they are moving six mountains; they are digging a hole, taking out the old slag, washing it, putting back the unused minerals and taking the material away for use in coal-fired power stations. The difficulty there is that transport has also been excluded. I happen to have been on that site, where use is made of possibly some of the largest vehicles I have ever seen. If I stood next to the wheel, it would probably have been twice my height—never mind the size of the overall operation. Yet quarrying—which is essentially what that opencast facility is—and transport are excluded. I wonder when and where we will get more definition of how these categories are to be arrived at and what criteria lie behind their choice. It is perfectly acceptable to see them as they are in the framework, but the framework is skeletal and perhaps need to be sketched out somewhat more clearly.

As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, has already referred to, in health and safety we concentrate very much upon safety and do not always look at health. I wonder whether that is because words such as stress and mental health are difficult to make tangible in order to understand their impact. For example, could we look at some hazards each year to try to anticipate the sort of changes that one might put within the workplace for those intangible health elements? Of course, there are far more tangible health elements which we now know about but which an employer would not have known about. The example there is asbestos. No one knew about its impact. We had a debate in this Room about mesothelioma, discussing its impact and the swift killer that it becomes based upon asbestos in the workplace. We know of that but there may be other silent killers which we know little about. How is that work to continue and who is going to do it?

Perhaps I might pick up on one particular interest: the loss of the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, which is being replaced by a code of practice. I well remember why that body was put in place. Noble Lords may remember that it was when there was a series of accidents with children canoeing in a bay in Dorset. A lot of children were drowned when those canoes capsized. It is important that we are absolutely certain that the code of practice will not only be simple guidance but have the enforceability of law behind it, and that there is some form of checking to make sure that the code is put in place because the safety of young people is crucial.

I would like to touch as well upon the accreditation of advisers and consultants, which is very welcome. I went looking to see which of the advisers and consultants who are now on the register live near me. I understand that if you pay the money, you get on the register and there will eventually be an accreditation body to take on that responsibility. However, I would like reassurance that that accreditation body will also be sufficiently independent to examine appropriately whether somebody is doing their job well and to ensure that people are taken off the register if they are not. After all, one element that we talked about in the previous debate was of having people who had lacked the skills and qualifications in that crucial area. We need to ensure the highest possible standards, which it seems to me can be achieved without a great deal of money having to go behind them. However, that will require independence of action by a professional body.

In conclusion, there are still many questions to be asked and actions to be developed. The Government’s current progress is on track and I hope that they will achieve that balance which I spoke of earlier. That will lead to a risk-intelligent society at work in the future.

My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend has introduced a debate on this subject and I thank him for doing so. Some time ago, we had a debate on a report undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Young. He is of course no longer the PM’s chief adviser but the Government are apparently still committed to introducing legislation arising from that report. Presumably, this paper from the DWP is part of that policy. I recall saying at the time that if legislation emerged designed to make it more difficult for employees to make claims because of illness or injuries at work, I would do everything I could to oppose it, and that is still my position.

There is apparently a notion that health and safety provision in the UK is the best in the world and that very few people are hurt at work. Unfortunately, that is not true. There are many hazardous occupations, some of which have been referred to by my noble friend Lord McKenzie in his introduction today. Up to 1,500 people are killed every year in work-related accidents and millions are made ill by work-related illnesses. Furthermore, arising from the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young—although this was not maintained in the report itself—the Government, including the Prime Minister, claim that in this country we are suffering from a compensation culture. They say that health and safety costs too much and that there is too much regulation which prevents a growth in jobs, particularly in the private sector. Much of that is not accurate. Less than 10 per cent of workers made ill or injured at work get any sort of compensation at all.

There is actually less regulation now than there was 40 years ago. There are also fewer spot inspections of workplaces, fewer prosecutions and in 98 per cent of major injuries there is no enforcement action taken later by the employers concerned. The Health and Safety Executive has done a very good job over the years on improving health and safety at work, but that is all changing as a result of government cuts. There is a 35 per cent cut in government funds to the HSE which is to take full effect by 2015. As a result, the HSE is now finalising plans to turn into a slim-line, pay-as-you-go enforcement agency that charges for everything, from enforcement notices to routine advice and accident investigations. There is now a voluntary exit scheme which has apparently been oversubscribed, with 250 applicants for redundancy among HSE staff. Enforcement is already in crisis. The number of inspections is to fall and proactive inspections may be abandoned altogether.

In the mean time, the Government are also planning to change the way in which European directives on health and safety eventually become part of UK law. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, who chairs the Cabinet's Reducing Regulation Committee made it clear that the Government intend to end much regulation so that British business is not put at a disadvantage. It is clear that the Government intend to move to weaker laws and, of course, less protection for British workers. That is dangerous and quite unwarranted. If the Prime Minister is genuinely concerned about the big society and encouraging voluntary organisations, he should be aware that the families of workers who have been killed and injured in work-related incidents have formed themselves into an organisation called Families Against Corporate Killers and are campaigning for tougher laws against what they believe to be preventable illnesses and deaths and for the HSE to have more powers rather than fewer.

The TUC also supports the campaign for improved enforcement. In confidential interviews, many managers and staff have said that they fear reprisals if they raise safety concerns at work, despite the fact that the Labour Government introduced legislation designed to protect whistleblowers. Unions have exposed the scandal of the under-reporting of safety concerns. From the information provided to me, it seems that far from having a compensation culture, there is actually too little reporting of hazards in employment. The TUC is taking that very seriously. There is no doubt that workplaces are safer where unions are recognised and safety representatives are able to do their work. Moreover, union members are more likely to get help if they need to take a case to court because the unions will support cases in order to assist their members.

There is a Workers' Memorial Day, with a rally in Manchester, on 28 April, in memory of those who have died from work-related accidents and to press for a strengthening of enforcement and opposition to the Government’s cuts drive, which will put more employees at risk, and which will involve the NHS and taxpayers in the expense of dealing with the problems that workers encounter because they need attention, benefits and assistance from the NHS. Sometimes employers manage to escape altogether because they do not always carry insurance. I remember that this was another issue that we raised some time ago; the previous Government had undertaken to deal with it, but it does not seem to bother the existing Government very much.

In a number of ways, the Government seem intent on changing the balance between employers and employees to the disadvantage of employees. The Government may very well live to regret that. I have recently had some correspondence from a lady who is very active in the voluntary organisation to which I referred. She is the mother of a son who died in a rather appalling accident at work. She has drawn my attention to the fact that the Prime Minister said, prior to the election:

“So let me make it clear: yes, the Conservatives will reduce the burden and impact of health and safety legislation in our country”,

to which she responds:

“David Cameron’s government intends removing the ‘burden’ on employers of safeguarding their employees, but the real emotional and financial burden is borne by the families of up to 1,500 killed every year by preventable accidents at work”.

That is a very important statement from somebody who has really suffered as a result of inadequate protection in the past. We certainly do not want to make it any worse than it is at present.

If I may contribute briefly before the Minister sums up, I would just like to make two points. I have been on a sort of inspection trip of the railways this morning with Theresa Villiers, the Minister for Transport, looking at some work that Network Rail has been doing. There were a lot of signallers around on the tracks—something had gone wrong—and it made me wonder yet again, if transport as an industry is going to be downgraded in risk, where the railways come in this. Railways are transport and so is road. The difference in the risk to a worker beside a track on the railways is not much different to the risks and exposure of people working on motorways, where the traffic is going extremely fast—probably at much the same speed—and with even less protection. The great thing about trains is that they tend to stay on tracks, whereas cars occasionally wander off the road. So it would be very interesting to hear what views the Minister has on that particular element of transport, because railways are transport and roads are transport and, as my noble friend said in his introduction, so are ports.

That takes me on to my second point. I declare an interest as a harbour commissioner at the port of Fowey in Cornwall. We recently had a visit from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which is spending a lot of time at the moment restructuring the coastguard service, as noble Lords have debated on previous occasions. The MCA came to inspect a passenger ferry, which is a little ferry that takes 12 people across the river. The ferry is already approved by the harbour authority and checked every year for safety, as are the skippers. The MCA informed people that the mooring hook that is used to connect to the steps at each end was unsafe. The same hook—a nice piece of mild steel—has been used for the past 60 years, during which there has been no record of any accidents. It is a hook that enables them to leave quickly if the swell gets too strong, but it is very safe and enables the ferry to operate very well. They have now been told to use a snap shackle instead. Some of us who help skippers on occasions know that the snap shackle can pinch your fingers—I know that other noble Lords have helped and also pinched their fingers on that particular shackle—so, if the Government are intent on saving money on some of these safety issues, surely they should concentrate on the important things rather than on coming to tell a ferry skipper which type of shackle he is supposed to use. Quite honestly, it is the skipper’s job to make sure that the ferry is safe, as approved by the harbour authority. I mentioned that to that chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency when he came to a meeting a couple of weeks ago; I have not had a reply yet.

I hope that the Minister will take that as a real example—and it is a real example, unlike some of these conker fights, which we hear about being unsafe, although I do not really accept that. Let us concentrate on the important things and try to avoid undue and unnecessary inspections of things that have worked perfectly well and will continue to work perfectly well for quite a long time.

My Lords, I am grateful, as always, to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for the opportunity to update the House on how the Government’s proposed changes to the health and safety system will encourage safer and healthier workplaces.

I should begin by reiterating why change is needed. Good health and safety is, of course, vital, and the Government are committed to maintaining health and safety protections. That is the whole point—for health and safety to be effective, it must be a protection, not a burden. Health and safety legislation, overzealously applied, achieves nothing. That is exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, made about snap shackles. Equally, compensation claims, pursued at random, simply breed cynicism. Our challenge is to lift these burdens and—to paraphrase my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham—to let common sense prevail.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Government are committed to implementing the recommendations in my noble friend’s report, Common Sense, Common Safety, and have recently reinforced this commitment. On 21 March, my right honourable friend the Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling, announced the next steps in the Government’s plans for health and safety reform in Britain. These include setting up an immediate review of health and safety regulation, with a wide-ranging remit including exploring the scope for consolidating, simplifying or abolishing regulations. The review, led by Professor Ragnar Löfstedt, director of the risk management centre at King’s College London, is set to make recommendations this autumn. I can assure my noble friend Lord German that the terms of reference will be published on the DWP’s website before the end of May. The overall remit for the review was set out in Good Health and Safety, Good for Everyone. In the mean time, I assure noble Lords that the Government are already making good progress in implementing the recommendations set out in the report of my noble friend Lord Young. Those who wish to can view a progress report on my department’s website, detailing progress against all the recommendations.

My noble friend Lord German expressed concern about whether the code of practice would be enforceable in respect of adventure activities. That code of practice will be consulted on shortly. In practice, current licensing does not cover many of the newer adventure activities—I do not think that it covers coasteering, for instance. Health and safety law will continue to apply and will be enforced appropriately.

I shall focus on two aspects of our strategy today: first, the action that we are taking to change the health and safety culture for the benefit of Britain’s workplaces; and, secondly, our focus on reforming so-called no-win no-fee agreements and other aspects of civil litigation funding and costs.

Culture change, whether in health or safety or anything else, does not happen overnight, but its results can be impressive. Perhaps noble Lords will allow me a personal reflection. I well remember meeting officials from Eurotunnel—for which I was working in a more financial capacity—some 20 years ago and comparing the numbers of fatalities that occurred during the construction phase of that amazing project. There were seven on the British side and two on the French side. The factors involved were many and various, but I was struck and a little shocked by how much the French construction industry had achieved for itself compared with its British counterpart and how much its strong safety culture owed to partnership working.

Happily, in the intervening years, much of the British construction industry has followed suit, and the benefits are plain to see. The industry now has a fatal injury rate of 2.2 workers per 100,000 per year, which is among the best in the world.

Against this background I am delighted to report that the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and of the Minister for Employment to deliver culture change are already bearing fruit. Following its recent launch by the Health and Safety Executive, already more than 2,000 health and safety consultants have been approved to join the online Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register. It is not only the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, who has welcomed the register. We confidently expect more consultants to join the scheme as its reputation grows.

I need hardly explain the importance of the new register. It should spell the end of rogue health and safety advisers. All those on the register will be properly accredited to a professional health and safety body, which is good news for health and safety and, indeed, good news for business.

The consultants register is designed to help employers who need general health and safety advice to find a well qualified and experienced consultant who is able to give that advice. Employers using a registered consultant can have confidence that the consultant belongs to a professional body, has had their experience and qualifications assessed and is undertaking continuing professional development; in short, someone who is committed to providing sensible and proportionate advice and is properly insured.

To pick up on my noble friend Lord German’s point, there will be an annual renewal process to make sure that all those on the register still meet the eligibility criteria. The relevant professional body will deal with complaints and, indeed, could take action to remove consultants from that register. The new register is just one of several online tools launched recently by the Health and Safety Executive, with a view to providing small and medium-sized enterprises, and others, with straightforward guidance on how to manage health and safety.

Health and Safety Made Simple, for example, is a concise and easy-to-navigate website, designed specifically for low-risk SMEs. Similarly, four interactive risk assessment tools have been developed—specifically for offices, shops, charity shops and classrooms—and the HSE has also just published simple web advice making clear that health and safety law is not a barrier to volunteering activities, and explaining clearly when the law applies in practice.

Taken together, these new measures will allow businesses to achieve a basic level of health and safety compliance, and that, again, is good news for everyone. A basic level of compliance means lower-risk businesses delivering on their key health and safety obligations—but not being smothered by red tape, nor health and safety inspections, in the process.

As for my noble friend’s point on asbestos, asbestos clearly must remain a priority. Work to educate and raise awareness of the risk is under way and included in the HSE’s forward business plan.

On inspections, perhaps one of the biggest changes is the focusing of inspection and enforcement on those areas where it is needed most. In the current financial climate, there is no point in claiming that the enforcing authorities can inspect all businesses to the same extent and with the same frequency. On the other hand, why should they? Why should a lower-risk business be inspected as much as a higher-risk one? Equally, why should a business that is in serious breach of its health and safety responsibilities not be charged by the enforcing authorities for putting things right?

Let me be clear: we have no intention of reducing inspections in high-hazard industries. In fact, by the end of SR10, the aim is to have more, not less, nuclear and hazardous industries inspectors. As for unnecessary inspections, an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the statement is designed to drive this change of behaviour.

On inspector numbers, as of April 2011, we have 2,500 front-line staff and we are expecting an increase over the next year, with the figures beyond that date dependent. As I said, there is no intention to reduce numbers substantially although, with the reduction in the number of inspections, by implication the concentration on the higher-risk industries will intensify. This is not a net loss but an additional concentration on the higher-risk industries.

The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, asked about the evidence base for lower-risk classifications of industries. Essentially, it comes from the Office for National Statistics, and trends over that show where sectors are improving their health and safety performance. Higher-risk classifications relate to those industries where performance remains a concern. In agriculture, farm inspections have not proved effective in reducing injuries over the years. The current approach involves new training and education and has proved to be more effective.

As for my noble friend’s point about how to decide who to inspect without proactive inspections, clearly there is a whistleblower element and a follow-up of complaints. More importantly, however, there is also a follow-up of those incidents and an investigation where necessary. Other inspections will reflect evidence of risk and be regularly reviewed.

There was a question about why quarrying and transport have been excluded. It is mainly because of improvements in their performance over recent years.

Given the time constraints, I shall not speak about issues of civil justice. Those issues were not specifically raised so I shall perhaps leave them until another occasion.

The noble Lord has just mentioned quarries and transport, but where do railways come into this? I asked whether railways are part of transport or something else.

That is currently being looked at within the Office of Rail Regulation. It was separated—I forget exactly when, but, from memory, I think it was 2004—and is now being brought back together and integrated with the regulator.

The noble Lord has not mentioned trade unions once and yet this is a major part of all unions’ work. For many years it was one of my responsibilities within my union to run a scheme that provided assistance to people who had accidents at work. The TUC is very much involved with the prevention of accidents and so on and it is a major part of unions’ work. The Minister did not mention that. Although he referred to the register of people who are giving professional advice and so on, he did not mention unions at all.

I apologise. That was an inadvertent miss-out. Clearly where there is a more responsive, not so proactive system, the unions would have a role in alerting the HSE where there were concerns. Clearly, the role of education and training in reducing health problems in many of these areas will be important.

One area in which I am most interested is what we will find from the sickness absence review. This has now been launched and will be looking at periods of sickness absence of 28 weeks. Stress-related and mental health-related issues account for around 40 per cent of such absence, and it will be very interesting to see whether we can use the new arrangements for managing sickness absence to ratchet up how employers look after their staff. I know that the sickness absence review team is actively looking at that. Therefore, there is a health and not just a safety angle here.

I am sorry to intervene again and the Minister may wish to write to me, but perhaps I may clarify two points. First, can he confirm that the evidence base on which the categorisation has been determined takes account of evidence relating to propensity for ill health in sectors, as well as accidents and fatalities? Secondly, in relation to reactive, as well as proactive, inspections, the document, if I read it correctly, says that in both areas—that is, the high-risk areas and areas of concern, but not the low-risk areas—the HSE will continue to undertake inspection for enforcement purposes or to follow up complaints when such an intervention appears necessary. Can the Minister confirm that there is no intention of having reactive inspections for what are classed as lower-risk areas—for example, the transport sector, electrical engineering, and indeed education provision, as we know that asbestos in schools is a continuing problem?

I am happy to confirm both those points. The first, concerning health, is clearly part of the statistical base that will alert the HSE. Secondly, where there is concern, the HSE will respond whether it is a lower risk or a higher risk, and that is exactly as I understood the section of the document to which the noble Lord referred. It says that in as many words.

My Lords, perhaps we should pursue this matter outside the Committee, as I do not think that it does. The comment seems to relate to the first two areas—areas of concern and areas of high risk—but not those of low risk. However, perhaps we can deal with that in correspondence.

I should be happy to write a full letter on that point. In conclusion, I am confident that our health and safety changes are a force for good, ensuring that civil justice and health and safety law are applied sensibly. The emphasis should be on addressing real risks and preventing death, injury and ill health to those at work and those affected by work-related activities. I have said before that we will not make the United Kingdom a safer place by wrapping everyone in cotton wool and avoiding all risk; we will do it by delivering a health and safety system that is fair, balanced and proportionate.

Sitting suspended.

UN: International Year of Youth

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking in the United Nations International Year of Youth to support young people in the challenges they face, especially in developing countries.

My Lords, my passion for the well-being and meaningful engagement of young people has deep roots. From my days as a director of Bolton Lads and Girls Club, through my various shadow ministerial roles in education, health, women, children, schools and families, and internationally as a trustee of two charities, I have taken a keen interest in how we develop the enormous potential of young people alongside an aspiration to see a much better life for so many of them. I declare my interests as a trustee of UNICEF UK and of the Disability Partnership.

The United Nations International Year of Youth has served as a timely reminder of the significant importance of young people in the world today. I do not intend speaking about the role of youth in the UK, as this is a vast and important subject on its own, and I know that it will be expertly covered by other noble Lords. Can I just say that I am most grateful to all noble Lords for taking part? It is indeed a glittering cast in today’s debate. I will focus on young people living in the developing world, where 87 per cent of the world's youth live.

The UN International Year of Youth was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, and calls upon Governments, the United Nations and civil society to recognise the contributions that young people make to society and to address the challenges they face. The specific theme of the International Year of Youth is dialogue and mutual understanding, providing an important opportunity to increase commitment to youth, promote youth participation and enhance intercultural dialogue and understanding among young people. The International Year of Youth runs from August 2010, and the progress achieved during the year will lay the foundation for further work in youth development, including the implementation of the world programme of action for youth and contributions to meeting the millennium development goals.

The facts are stark, and for help with this debate I must express my gratitude for the invaluable briefing papers provided by Restless Development on behalf of the DfID civil society organisations youth working group, a network of over 30 civil society organisations and young people that are working to demonstrate the essential role of youth in international development and, at the same time, helping DfID work more effectively with, and for, young people. I am, as always, hugely indebted to and enormously proud of UNICEF.

The demographic reality is this: 87 per cent of young people live in developing countries, 60 per cent of Africa's population are youth, and, altogether, 1.3 billion young people make up the largest ever youth group in history. These numbers themselves need updating following the Indian census announced last week, which indicated another 100 million to be added to that country's population, all of whom are or will become young people.

Whilst young people make up 25 per cent of the working population, they account for 47 per cent of the unemployed and are three times more likely to be unemployed than other adults. One-third of the world's poor—the majority being children and young people—live in conflict-affected and fragile states. There is statistical evidence of a connection between high relative youth populations and risk of conflict when young people are not engaged in a meaningful way in their lives and communities. The youth literacy rate for conflict-affected countries is 79 per cent, compared with 93 per cent for other developing countries. UNESCO estimates that 98 per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school, and 99 per cent of girls with disabilities are illiterate. Many development issues disproportionately affect young people; seven out of 10 young people live in poverty, with adolescent girls representing a large percentage of maternal mortality risk. Four in every 10 of new HIV infections occur among those aged 15 to 24. The list goes on.

If this were not enough, there is what I can only describe as a tsunami—an emotive word, which I use with care—on the horizon. Today the world’s population is 6.9 billion; over the next generation it will rise to over 9 billion. The vast majority of these additional people will be born in the developing world, challenging already desperately challenged communities. Where will the extra schools, jobs, healthcare and support for these young people come from? What vision do we have for this coming generation? What hope?

For me, the message is clear: young people represent a largely untapped asset in development. If we do not engage them meaningfully in development, we will fail not only to realise our international goals and commitments but, more importantly, we will fail them. The UN initiative helps us to focus on this important issue.

What can be done and what can the role of our Government be? Here I pay tribute to the leadership of my right honourable friends the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development. It has required foresight and considerable courage, particularly in difficult economic times, to resist the pressure to go back on our international commitment to increase our aid spending to meet the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2013.

I also pay tribute to the previous Government. DfID has rightly achieved a leadership role within the international development community and in the field of youth. It has also shown some excellent initiatives, of which I shall name but a few: the prioritisation of girls and women in DfID’s business planning, most notably around maternal health; the current DfID programme partnership arrangement, which now includes a consortium focused on working with and for youth; and the recent launch of the international citizen service initiative, providing opportunities for British young people to work alongside peers in developing countries to address important local issues while also learning new skills. These are positive steps, but we can do more.

In countries where DfID has a full-time office, the average percentage of the population under the age of 25 is over 55 per cent. This means that if we are to be successful in our development efforts we must focus our attention more on the needs of this demographic group. One practical and relatively low-cost step that DfID could take to ensure that programmes are age sensitive and responsive to the needs of young people would be to disaggregate performance and impact data by age. Applying a youth lens would enable DfID to measure the impact of its work on young people so that resources can be better focused and interventions are evidence based. This would enable us to see whether our efforts are meeting the needs of young people appropriately.

As the International Year of Youth reminds us, it is crucial not only to address the challenges that the youth of the world face but to recognise the contributions they can make to society. This more asset-based approach, recognising that young people are often the most readily available asset in the poorest countries in the world, leads us to two additional simple steps that we can take. The first step is to promote youth-focused and youth-led development among international and multilateral agencies and international fora. I know that President Obama has stated very eloquently his desire to support young people and perhaps this is something that Her Majesty’s Government could specifically support when the president visits the UK in May, or at the G8 which follows in Paris in the same month. The second step is to create a network of youth champions within DfID. Through regular and meaningful engagement with young people and youth-focused agencies, DfID’s staff could better understand youth concerns and the potential for youth-led development interventions and be able to champion them to senior policy makers at world development agencies. We have pursued this with great success at UNICEF UK.

I am delighted that this debate is being supported by noble Lords across the political spectrum because this fundamental issue affects us all. I heard from the Library that this is the first ever debate we have had on youth and international development. We only have to cast our eyes towards the recent events in north Africa, the Middle East, the Gulf and Côte d'Ivoire to recognise the potency of young people when faced with the alternatives of hopelessness or change. The speed of developments has been breathtaking and the risks of ignoring them are self-evident.

The positive benefits of grasping the opportunity and capturing the energy and idealism of young people are clear for all to see. When President Obama addressed young Africans last autumn, he said:

“Africa's future belongs to its young people … once again, Africa finds itself at a moment of extraordinary promise … it will be up to you, young people full of talent and imagination, to build the Africa for the next 50 years”.

In today’s debate, we extend to young people the world over that positive message of hope and opportunity.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for making it possible for us to have this debate. What she just said about this being the first debate of its type that the Library can find says everything, yet, to look at it the other way, the notion that we should address this problem and solve it is also utterly self-evident. I declare an interest as the former president of UNICEF UK and as chancellor of the Open University, which I will come on to in a moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, did not mention that she is an utterly invaluable trustee of UNICEF. As someone who I would like to think helped to persuade her to take up the role, I say that it was one of the best day’s work I ever did.

I will not add to any of the horrifying statistics, which are all utterly self-evident. When I was young, there was a charismatic civil rights leader called Eldridge Cleaver who famously said that you are either part of the solution or simply part of the problem. My judgment, certainly from my work at UNICEF, is that young people around the world want to be part of the solution. The truth is that we cannot afford the luxury of not allowing them to be.

If I had a wish list, it would be to take Members of the Committee on just two visits. One would be to get all of your Lordships to a graduation ceremony at the Open University, because there you would see what hope is. These are not graduation ceremonies in the normal sense but triumphs of individual ambition and commitment. I have always believed that, if I could get sufficient parliamentarians to graduation ceremonies, all of my other problems at the OU would be solved immediately. The other, a lot less celebratory, would be to take parliamentarians on a number of the trips that I made to a dozen countries during my year and a half with UNICEF—it was almost two years—looking into the effects and issues surrounding sex trafficking, which is at the other end of the emotional universe.

A million young people a year get sold into either abusive under age labour situations or sex trafficking. It is a global scandal. The UN has taken it seriously and the police in this country have certainly begun to take it seriously, yet it goes on and on. The figures and the apparent appetite do not diminish. It is the only time in my life when I was truly ashamed to be a man. These problems have to be addressed by men and solved by men once and for all. I find it very difficult to deal with the idea that we should live with these problems.

Every now and then, I am helped by dipping my toes back into the world of cinema. Last November, I chaired the jury at the annual Asia Pacific film awards in Australia where, in a period of just nine days, I watched 31 of the most remarkable movies to have emerged from that large and increasingly significant region in just the past year. Rightly or wrongly, I would argue that film makers are particularly good at sniffing out the social and cultural zeitgeist, resulting in what we then refer to as trends. One overwhelming trend that emerged from watching those movies, from 15 different countries, was what I can only describe as intergenerational alienation. The young no longer trust us to do right by them. As a result, they have a serious problem believing many things that we say. Whether we say them in Parliament, in the media or wherever, they are simply ceasing to believe us because, as they increasingly see it, we have stolen their pensions, their food and water security, their future job prospects and their environment.

Precisely the same intergenerational alienation is largely driving the uprisings we have been watching in the Arab world in recent months. That is little wonder, when you look at the mind-numbing numbers of unemployed young people in that region. It is a form of alienation that is given a voice by technology but whose roots run far deeper. When you add to that Wikileaks, it seems to prove that this new and increasingly sceptical generation is right in the suspicion that the dominant players in the political and commercial world have forgotten how to play with a straight bat.

There are those who claim that the intergenerational world has always been typified by suspicion and mutual misunderstanding, to which my response is that never before in history have we been living in each other’s pockets to the same degree—both metaphorically and in reality—aware that a crisis in one part of the world has the capacity to utterly overwhelm those living elsewhere. We are asking young people around the world to switch on their television sets, no matter where they are, to see how the first world lives. They watch programmes about the lives of the rich and famous, so it is little wonder that they look at us and wonder whether we are mad or have lost all sense of imagination about what injustice might mean. The realities and challenges facing today's young people are not those of the 19th or even the late 20th century; the truth is that we may not yet have woken up to the fact but literally millions of young people have, and they do not much like what they see. I find it impossible to blame them.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords—I am very sorry to have to do this in such a key debate with so many speakers—that the debate is strictly time-limited and when the clock reaches four minutes, you have had your four minutes. We want the Minister to have an opportunity to reply to everyone.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton for giving us this opportunity to debate this subject. I declare an interest as a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Street Children and as a trustee of one large organisation UNICEF, in common with my noble friend, and of one small charity CMAP.

In the International Year of Youth, I want to highlight a particular category of youth, which is street children. They are very hard to define because they may live on the street, or they may have a home and only go to the street sporadically, or they may live at home and work on the street. The best definition is that they are children for whom the street is the main focus and main point of reference in their lives. By itself, that brings many challenges, dangers and issues. In every country we need to face that, recognise it and resolve it. Societies in any of these countries cannot solve the issues for children but they need to solve the issues with children. What makes street children quite different is that in most countries—including, I am afraid, our own—we often try to solve issues for the children without properly allowing them to participate in the solutions.

What drives these children and young people on to the streets does not vary much from country to country. Whether the country is the UK, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia or Indonesia, some common threads run through the causes, including violence at home and the presence of alcoholic or drug-using parents, which may lead to violence. However, some things are different. In her introduction the noble Baroness mentioned war, which is a major cause, as are land seizures for one reason or another, or migration from rural to urban areas, which is an increasing phenomenon. In itself poverty does not seem to be an automatic trigger.

For the first time ever, in this International Year of Youth one day—12 April—has been devoted to street children. In the UK, that day will be led by the Consortium for Street Children, which has 60 members, including large NGOs like Save the Children, Plan UK and War Child, and many smaller ones like Toy Box, ICT or International Planned Parenthood Federation. They work away in some 130 countries. For the first time, in many of those countries this international day for street children will mark the lives of street children and will celebrate the fact that they exist and need rights. There will be street parties in Honduras, sleep-outs in Ireland and children in Morocco, Uganda, Guatemala and many other countries will highlight the day.

What in particular needs to be highlighted? The fact is that public servants and authority still really do not recognise that street children have rights like other children whose parents stand up for them. There has been some really good practice. In El Salvador, the social inclusion unit is training public servants in street child rights. In Ethiopia, there has been police training on how to deal with street children in a way that suitably recognises their rights. At the recent UN General Assembly on 24 March in Geneva, there was a very welcome resolution by the UNHCR to expand and affirm this area. So there is much good work going on. I would be grateful if the Minister would tell us which DfID policies are specifically geared to enable street children to realise their rights.

My Lords, I, too, would like to begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, for securing this debate and introducing it with such conviction and clarity. I agree with what she has said.

The International Year of Youth is an opportunity to place young people at the heart of our international policy and to promote international development that is responsive to the needs of young people and involves them in planning processes in a very meaningful way. It is equally important that this is done by working with and influencing international agencies and those working in the international arena. One such forum is the Commonwealth—and I should perhaps state at this stage that I am a president of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The Commonwealth is a much undervalued voluntary association of 54 countries that work together towards the goals in democracy and development. It also has a vibrant not-for-profit sector. The Government would do well if they were to work with and through the Commonwealth.

Young people have long been at the heart of the Commonwealth. There are over 1 billion young people in the Commonwealth, and those under 30 years old make up to 60 per cent of the population. As such a significant group, young people are crucial to the strategies to achieve sustainable development. At a time of dramatic technological changes and some of the grave problems facing us, we should work to mainstream their involvement.

There are a number of initiatives within the Commonwealth which are worth drawing to the attention of the House and the Government. These projects, I believe, can be replicated and lessons learnt from them can be incorporated into future strategies and policies. The first example is about engagement of young people in democratic processes. Through a network of regional youth caucuses, young people contribute to high-level Commonwealth ministerial meetings and to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and have their say on the big issues such as education, environment, equality and empowerment. Young people also contribute to election observance missions, when international teams of experts help to ensure that voting is conducted in a free and fair manner.

The theme of dialogue and mutual understanding is a natural fit for a diverse association like the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council has run inspirational two-way intercultural exchanges that have exposed young people to new ideas and helped to build life-long friendships. The value of such exchanges was summed up by one participant as follows:

“Peace and understanding cannot be obtained from a book. You have to venture out and touch other nations”.

This sentiment permeates another Commonwealth initiative called Nkabom, the Royal Commonwealth Society's youth leadership programme, which unites 18 to 25 year-olds from all over the globe to learn first-hand about conflict resolution through exposure to practical projects, meetings with leaders and hands-on learning. Even for the youngest Commonwealth citizens, there are opportunities to reflect on the world and their central role in it. The RCS reaches 50,000 school students annually with its essay, film and photography competitions. These competitions provide a real insight into their world view and their ideas for the future.

These few examples show that, given an opportunity, these young people can make an enormous contribution. They can become active and engaged citizens. Young people are our future. Investment in their education and training and in their engagement in finding solutions is essential and prudent. The consequences of a lack of investment were well put by the World Bank report, which said:

“Given the cumulative nature of human developments, underinvestments in children and youth are difficult to reverse later in life, and the price for society is high”.

I very much hope that this year will act as a catalyst in encouraging Her Majesty’s Government to make a step change which can be sustained beyond one year. The issue of youth is too important to restrict to one year. I very much look forward to hearing what steps are being taken with regard to mainstream policies affecting young people and working with international agencies—in particular, the Commonwealth.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, on securing this debate. It is not often that we get the chance to debate issues of this nature. First, I should declare the interest of the many organisations for which I act as a trustee. The three that are relevant to this debate are the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Voluntary Service Overseas. I am on the international board of VSO, which is an enormous privilege.

Inevitably, the priorities in much of the developing world are different from ours. Among many policy-makers in this country, the ageing society is talked about as one of the greatest challenges that we face, with questions of how to adapt our public services and so on to meet the needs of that ageing society. However, in the developing world, the absolute opposite is true. I have had the opportunity to go to several countries in Africa. The challenge faced in Sierra Leone is the number of young people involved in the war who have lost their parents and become incredibly emotionally damaged. The question is how to deal with the sheer number of such children and how to find meaningful work and activities for them. I visited Tanzania to work with an education organisation which is working to improve quality in primary education. It has done remarkably well in increasing the number of children going to primary school, and we congratulate it on achieving much of the millennium development goal on education. However, many girls are being taken out of school to do domestic work and so on.

I could go on but I want to talk specifically about the role of the International Citizen Service—the new programme being introduced by the Government that will begin later this year. Potentially, it can play a very important role in development and particularly in providing opportunities for young people, not only in this country but in developing countries, and I hope that the Government proceed with ICS in this manner. This new initiative will be run in this country by six specialist development organisations led by VSO. All six agencies are currently working in development, using volunteers as their main instruments. It is very important that these agencies’ primary concern is development through volunteering, rather than simply giving people from this country a good experience.

More than most in this Committee, I can give testament to the value of volunteering for individuals in this country. It changed my life; the most important two years in my life were the two that I spent in Kenya. However, that is not enough; we have to approach this with the vision of development. VSO will do it through youth exchange, involving young people from the developing world as much as young people from this country. I urge the Government to keep faith with development and not to be tempted to turn this into what some might call gap-year tourism. It is not that. It needs to be a significant experience in development for children and young people in the developing world. I hope that the Government will learn from VSO about how to do this.

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate, not least because it has been initiated by my noble and long-time friend Lady Morris of Bolton. We heard previously in Committee about her drive to initiate such a debate. It comes as no surprise to me, knowing her as I do, that she should seek to do so.

As all noble Lords were young once, we can perceive what young people desire. Perhaps I may take a few moments for personal reflection. For a long period before entering your Lordships’ House I was involved with a youth association. Indeed, I had the privilege of leading that association for 15 or 16 years in various capacities from sports secretary to culture secretary, to vice-president and charity secretary. That taught me a great deal. This is—following on from the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong—about going from cradle to grave. It is not just about doing something for one bit of your life, learning about things which impact on children and young people; it is, as I learnt, something that one can engage in throughout one's life. It is about harnessing what is important in society and what role you can play.

I remember learning various skills in those early years, such as organisational skills, motivational skills, leadership skills and financial skills. That allowed me to pick up skills which complemented what I learnt in school. These domestic-focused activities—sometimes organising charity walks, or organising feeding for the homeless—instilled in me what we often talk about across your Lordships’ House and the other place: the values that we all wish to instil in our young people. The answer is in these community projects, in youth work.

I remember being engaged in an international sphere during the tragic war in the Balkans. I travelled out there and—despite the devastation, the genocide and the horrors—I was inspired and moulded by the experience. I found inspiration in the young people of all communities from within the Balkans who said, “Yes, we have nothing, but we have our lives and we can start again tomorrow”. My experience of working at home and abroad with charitable organisations such as Save the Children and Humanity First has instilled in me the importance of focusing on youth projects as we build stronger and more cohesive communities. It is important, as I have seen in places as diverse as Ghana and Sierra Leone, to empower young people. What they can do with computer skills is one example. Bringing young people together in the pursuit of common goals instils in them the need to work together and shows them the importance of learning from each other to develop themselves. I therefore welcome the Government’s drive to encourage youth development, including through the national citizen service, which broadens the minds of young people by giving them wider experiences.

In closing I would ask the Minister to tell the Committee the specific policies and funding that are in place or planned for the future to facilitate young people, through schools and voluntary organisations, so that they can learn from and contribute to the Government's big society initiative within the UK and in the developing world.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, on providing this opportunity to focus on young people, particularly in developing countries. It is a timely topic. Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history. Like the noble Baroness, I was stunned by the latest figures. Over 3 billion people, nearly half of the world's population, are under the age of 25, and 90 per cent of them are in developing countries. As many noble Lords have mentioned, girls and boys represent a large proportion of the population in countries that are fragile or affected by conflict. These countries are also likely to be most vulnerable in the face of environmental stress.

In 2000, world leaders established the millennium development goals to achieve, over 15 years, a set of global targets that seek to reduce poverty and promote development. The UK’s Department for International Development has made the achievement of these goals a central strategic objective. Last year, the House of Commons International Development Committee reviewed DfID’s achievements and found that there had been notable progress towards reaching several goals, including those focusing on child mortality and primary education. However, other goals are seriously off-track, including improved gender equality.

I am proud of the previous Government’s commitment and achievement in these areas, and it is clear that the coalition Government have the same commitment—for example, by showing leadership in focusing on women and children's health, as they did at the UN summit last September. However, huge challenges remain. It has been pointed out that many of the millennium targets are based on pretty low thresholds. Even if all the goals are achieved by 2015, many millions of people will remain in dire poverty and lack access to basic needs such as sanitation or basic educational opportunities.

I want to echo the words of Graça Machel, speaking at a UNESCO world conference two years ago, when she asked:

“How can it be that in 2009 we still have tens of millions of primary school-age children across the world who are not in school? … After all these years, why do we continue to have such marked gender inequality in educational access and outcomes for girls?”.

In my brief remarks, I want to emphasise the importance and value for money of DfID focusing its resources on basic education and, in particular, on educating girls. I follow my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top in mentioning Voluntary Service Overseas in this context. I hope that the Minister will share my pleasure, as life vice-president of VSO, that DfID continues its staunch support of VSO's excellent multilayered approach in education.

Of course it is not just a question of pumping in aid money. A blog on DfID's website stressed that it means tackling inequality, corruption and weak institutions, quoting an example in Nigeria—which I have seen at first hand—where there is a huge, underutilised government universal basic education fund and, at the same time, the largest number of out-of-school children in the world.

Nevertheless, all the evidence shows that basic education is one of the most cost-effective development interventions; and this is not just for the child. It aids economic growth, helps prevent HIV, improves health and prevents conflict. UNESCO’s data show that girls' education lowers infant and child mortality rates, reduces fertility rates and promotes per capita income growth. Each additional year of education completed by a mother translates into her children remaining longer at school

So, education works. Yet Oxfam has estimated that there is a $20 billion shortfall in the $50 billion promised at Gleneagles in 2005. As Oxfam says, this

“is more than enough to get a seat in the classroom for each of the 72 million children who are currently out of school worldwide”.

UNESCO has estimated that the global Education for All programme has a financing gap of $16 billion a year. So perhaps I can end by asking the Minister what the UK Government will do to help bridge this gap.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a long-term supporter and now patron of Restless Development, the international youth-led development agency. I am also an advisory board member of the Global Poverty Project, the aim of which, through education and training, is to increase the number and effectiveness of people taking action so that we will see a world without extreme poverty within a generation.

I have two or three simple messages. First, I have an abhorrence of waste. Whether it is wasting money, food, electricity, water or even wasting time, I cannot abide it in my own life or in society generally. The statistics set out so clearly by my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton incensed me. We talk glibly about a waste of natural resources in our world, yet the waste of so many hundreds of millions of young lives—a so-called lost generation whose potential is unfilled through no fault of their own—is rarely mentioned. Young people are human beings; they are also assets and potentially the most valuable resource in our world today. They have ideas, they have energy and they deserve a future.

By investing in these young people we have the opportunity to break entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity. There is an undeniable economic case for investing in children and youth today. As UNICEF’s 2011 The State of the World’s Children report states:

“The economic and social progress of nations depends upon harnessing the potential, energy and skills of these young people”.

A recent World Bank report says, specific to Uganda,

“if girls with only a primary education finished secondary school, over their working lives they would contribute economic benefits to their country equivalent to one-third of current year GDP”.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, said, educated girls are less likely to marry early and less likely to become pregnant as teenagers. They are also more likely to understand the benefits of nutrition and to have healthy children when they become mothers. They are also more likely then to send those children to school.

What can be done and what can we do? I would like to talk briefly about my experience with Restless Development, having seen at first hand its commitment to working with and through young people in Zambia. Its approach is to train young national volunteers to teach in their schools and communities. Increasingly, it is also working to get Governments and international agencies to recognise that to achieve sustainable success in poverty reduction it is essential to meaningfully engage young people in the process. As I visited several schools in outlying communities in the back of beyond, I was struck by the potency of training young Zambians to provide peer education on livelihoods, leadership and sexual and reproductive health. Messages which older teachers and parents would struggle to get across were readily accepted. I was inspired, too, by the other consequence of training peer educators—that they themselves became young leaders who in due course would go into communities as role models.

I mentioned earlier my abhorrence of waste and my commitment to highlighting the needs of poor young people. As part of this—I hope noble Lords will forgive this advertorial—I will be participating in the Live Below the Line campaign championed by Christian Aid, Restless Development, the Salvation Army and other charities. This will involve me and—I am delighted to note—the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and a number of other colleagues from the House, including the Lord Speaker, living for five days on £1 a day for food and drink. Again, like the International Year of Youth, the aim is to put a spotlight on the lives of 1.4 billion people, half of them young people, who live off this meagre amount every day of their lives.

We all have a responsibility to raise public awareness on this issue and to help those who are working to bring about change. One thing that struck me from my time in Zambia was that whatever poverty young Zambians endured, there is no poverty of ambition. A lesson, perhaps, for some in this country.

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, for initiating this debate and for calling, as other noble Lords have done, for greater emphasis and a stronger focus on measures intended substantially to increase the participation and the quality of life of young people. The actions and the desired outcomes we have discussed here today, as noble Lords have shown, make absolute and infinite sense.

Young people have potentially a huge contribution to make because of their experience and understanding, which they can add to global efforts to meet the millennium development goals and to fight against inequality and discrimination. There has, quite rightly, been substantial investment in young children, especially those under five. However, that does not mean that there is any justification for giving insufficient attention to the crucial second decade of life, which of course is the focus of the UN International Year of Youth.

Youths continue to be subsumed under the category of children but are too often overlooked in the programming and resources available; it is far more likely that that programming and those resources will be directed to younger children. It means that young people’s contributions are overlooked and neglected. As many noble Lords will know, many of these young people are heads of households, often caring for young siblings, fetching water and preparing food, yet they have absolutely no authority within their community and are excluded from all the decision-making. We now risk jeopardising the gains in early and middle childhood that have been made since 1990 and seeing a deterioration in those advances.

I am reminded of the story of a young woman speaking at a recent UN meeting. She asked the delegates, “How old will you be in 2050?”. The chair of the committee admitted that he would be 110 and therefore unlikely to see the results of our failure to act. The fact is that the kind of world in which that young woman lives will depend both on those who inherit it and on those who bequeath it to them. Noble Lords have talked about young people being our future. I would say that young people are our present too, and it is very important that we remember that.

It has certainly been my experience that all too often young people are not consulted, are not taken seriously and are not given a voice, when the parameters of rights and responsibilities are clearly agreed under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Tackling the challenges faced by young women is imperative at this time, as many noble Lords have said.

With many apologies to the noble Baroness, a Division has now been called in the Chamber. The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 5.26 pm.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, I carry on where I left off. Two-thirds of the 137 million illiterate young people in the world are young women. The noble Baroness mentioned some of the statistics. If you break them down, you see that more than half of HIV-infected young people are young women. That is why tackling the challenges faced by young women is an absolute imperative. Educating girls brings benefits such as delayed marriage, reduced rates of HIV, reduction in unwanted, unplanned pregnancies and maternal mortality, higher family incomes and lower rates of domestic violence. There is a long list of proven benefits. It is clear that talk of social transformation is meaningless unless the culture of discrimination and inequity which so many young women face is challenged. Young women need equal access to secondary education, to health, to employment, to juvenile justice and to identity. Adolescent girls need access to sexual and reproductive health rights. This should be urgently addressed. Complications relating to pregnancy and child birth are a leading cause of death worldwide among adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

Much of what needs to be done will be achieved only, as the noble Baroness said, if data are disaggregated. They should be disaggregated by age and gender; otherwise, one cannot make the relevant deductions. There has to be engagement across the board, from communities, Governments, the private sector, civil society, religious leaders, NGOs and donors. Everybody has to come behind the messages of this UN International Year of Youth. Many institutional and cultural barriers stand in the way of progress for young people at this time, but this year, which celebrates young people, should be used as a springboard for their future progress and opportunity.

My Lords, before thanking my noble friend, I thank all noble Lords for an excellent debate, particularly in view of the time. If I do not succeed in covering all points raised by noble Lords, I undertake to write to them. I warmly welcome the support offered for the Government’s desire to ensure that girls and women remain at the heart of our policies.

I thank my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton for tabling this debate in the International Year of Youth, launched in August last year. I thank her for her work in supporting children and young people, including in her role as trustee of UNICEF. The work of UNICEF in more than 190 countries around the world is exemplary. That is why the Government have announced a doubling of their funding support for the agency.

The proportion of young people in the world today is higher than it has ever been. More than 3 billion people are under the age of 25, accounting for nearly half of the world's population. They have great opportunities, such as the ability to access information about world events at their fingertips, but they are also faced with new challenges, including those caused by climate change and the global financial crisis. We have witnessed many young people in the Middle East and north Africa calling for freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. These young people will be the leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow. They must have a role in rebuilding these countries and ensuring that the new constitutions uphold and promote human rights.

Experience tells us that we have to tackle the root causes of the development challenges today or we will spend much more time in future trying to deal with the symptoms. Almost 90 per cent of all young people live in developing countries. It is clear that we must harness the full potential of young people in order to guide developing countries towards a prosperous and stable future. The Government are fully committed to achieving better outcomes for young people in the poorest countries. There is a lot of good work under way. For example, in Sierra Leone, UK support has enabled 11,300 people aged between 18 and 28 to be trained as volunteer peer educators to work in schools and local communities to change health behaviours and reduce vulnerability to HIV. In Palestine, the UK is providing support through the Civil Society Challenge Fund to reduce poverty and social exclusion among physically disabled young people in the West Bank.

Young people are not merely passive recipients of aid but can be a powerful engine for achieving long-term development. DfID is supporting a number of international and local organisations to enhance youth participation and voice in development. In Brazil, for example, UK support has facilitated 5,300 teenagers and young people to be involved in monitoring public policy and programmes focusing on education. We supported the CSO youth working group to produce its guidance entitled Youth Participation in Development: A Guide for Development Agencies and Policy Makers. We will continue to draw on its strength to work with youth participation in the countries where we work—for example, as we develop new participatory approaches with young people through our partnership with the Nike Foundation.

In September last year, to mark the International Year of Youth and in the lead-up to the United Nations millennium development goals summit, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development met with over 30 youth delegates from the UK to hear their views about global poverty and their priorities for tackling it.

The Government believe that it is through investing in young people, and in particular in girls and young women, that we will achieve transformative benefits for future generations. Last month, DfID launched a new strategic vision for girls and women, which sets out that the UK will prioritise support to adolescent girls in four areas: to delay first pregnancy and support safe child birth; to support girls and young women through primary and secondary education; to provide girls and women directly with assets and with jobs and access to financial services; and to prevent violence against girls and women.

Educating girls is one of the best investments to reduce poverty, but in sub-Saharan Africa there are only 79 girls for every 100 boys in secondary education. This is less equal than in 1999. We will concentrate on retaining girls in school and enabling girls to progress through to secondary school, where the largest benefits accrue. By 2014 we will be supporting over 9 million children in primary education, of which at least half will be girls, and 700,000 girls in secondary education. Examples of UK support include Tanzania, where we will support 14,000 more female teachers to provide positive role models for girls. In Pakistan, 57,500 lavatory blocks will be built for girls to give them privacy, security and dignity. But we know that education is not enough on its own. That is why, by 2015, we will be helping 2.3 million women to access jobs and 18 million women to access financial services. To support adolescent girls in particular, we are developing pilots through a new programme partnership with the Nike Foundation to increase our access to assets. This will include cash transfers, girl clubs, financial literacy and saving accounts designed for girls.

On the UK’s domestic work to support young people in the International Year of Youth, the Government want all of our young people to aspire and achieve and to be active citizens in their communities and wider society. We want a stronger focus on closing the gap in achievement between the richest and the poorest by supporting the most vulnerable young people. We have ensured that the funding is there to guarantee that more young people stay on in school, restating our commitment to raising the participation age to 18 by 2015. We are committed to the pupil premium and early intervention grant, which will provide targeted support and services for the young people who need it the most; and we have commissioned the Wolf review to make recommendations on vocational education for 14 to 19 year-olds.

The Government are in the process of working with young people and youth organisations to create a new statement of policy for young people that is sustainable for the long term. This will be achievable and has the positive endorsement and buy-in of young people themselves. A youth summit event, “Positive for Youth”, was held on 9 March. The participation of almost 300 people from across all sectors, including more than 50 young people, enabled an open, engaging and productive debate about the key issues that matter most to young people. “Positive for Youth” marked the beginning of a genuine opportunity to do something that is new, different and positive for young people. Tim Loughton, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, has also convened a representative group of young people to advise him directly on the development of the Government’s new policy, and to provide an ongoing forum for youth proofing policies across government.

The Government’s flagship national citizen service programme will be central to increasing the engagement and active participation of young people in their communities. It will offer young people a shared opportunity for personal development and community services through an intensive summer programme. It will also be a catalyst for the greater involvement of community and civil society organisations in providing universal activities, as well as stimulating greater engagement from private organisations.

We are also offering young adults the chance to volunteer on social action projects in developing countries. This new scheme, the international citizen service, will offer a life-changing experience for young people from the UK to improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. The ICS will channel the skills, enthusiasm and energy of young volunteers to make a meaningful contribution to a range of development projects. Some ICS volunteers will work alongside national volunteers, who will be supported to continue their work after the UK volunteers have departed and to develop their own skills.

In the couple of minutes that I have left I shall turn to some of the questions raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, asked what the Government are doing to enable young people to learn from and contribute to the big society in England. The Government want all young people to have a positive and active place in society and to be active citizens in their communities. The national citizen service and the development of the international citizen service are excellent ways for ensuring that young people become engaged. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I also learned through my own experience how working with people with so many vulnerabilities at their doorstep makes that a life change for you.

My noble friend Lady Morris asked about disaggregated data. DfID produces youth-disaggregated data where it can. For example, it encourages country offices to produce age-disaggregated data for their programmes. However, for technical reasons, it is sometimes not appropriate to disaggregate all indicators by age because sometimes the beneficiaries are not targeted at that level—for example, the supply of clean water is not age appropriate but is on a geographic basis.

The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, referred to the problem of human trafficking. He will be happy to hear that the UK ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in 2008. After considering the views of Parliament, we will see whether we will sign up to that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, spoke about the Commonwealth and its importance to young people. DfID supports young people in the Commonwealth to engage in international development and build their skills. We provide funding of £850,000 per year to the Commonwealth Youth Programme, run by the Commonwealth Secretariat. This encourages young people’s engagement in international development.

I think that I have run out of time. I undertake to respond in writing to all noble Lords whose questions I have not answered.

Health: Obesity

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce obesity in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the purpose of this debate is to draw attention to the most serious epidemic to affect many parts of the world. The obesity epidemic will soon involve half the population of this country. It is killing millions of people, costing billions of pounds and the cure is free: eat less and live. The results of obesity cause great distress and suffering and include cancer, arthritis—which often needs joint replacements—and type 2 diabetes, which leads to blindness, loss of limbs, heart attacks, strokes and very much more disability.

The best measure of obesity is the body mass index, BMI, which is the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in metres. In terms of body mass index, 20 to 25 is healthy, 25 to 30 is overweight, above 30 is obese and over 40 is morbidly obese.

How is it that intelligent, well meaning leaders of this country have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked into believing the false information about obesity that it is all to do with a balance between the calories that we eat and the exercise that we take? Of course, they have been aided and abetted by NICE—or, under its more recent name, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. In its document on obesity of January 2010, NICE stated:

“A person needs to be in ‘energy balance’ to maintain a healthy weight – that is, their energy intake (from food) should not exceed the energy expended through … exercise”.

There is its crucial mistake, because the real balance is between calorie intake and the total expenditure of energy in the body.

The simple fact is that only 20 per cent of the calories we eat or drink are used up in exercise, which means that diet is five times more important than exercise in controlling weight. Put another way, if we were successful in doing something which has never been achieved before—namely, getting the population to double the amount of exercise that they do in a day—it would increase energy expenditure only by 20 per cent. If, on the other hand, every plate of food was reduced by half, this would reduce the calorie intake by half.

We have to run 17 miles in order to reduce our weight by one pound of fat. Bearing in mind that as little as 20 per cent of the calories we eat or drink is used up in exercise, where does the remaining 80 per cent of the energy go? It is consumed by numerous activities over which we have no control: the heart beats 2.5 billion times in a lifetime, the kidneys filter 4.5 metric tonnes of blood and there are a myriad of activities in other organs of the body such as the liver, the pancreas, the bones and the alimentary tract. As regards those who believe that the energy from food is all used up in exercise, where do they imagine the energy comes from to run the heart, liver, pancreas, brain and so on? Perhaps they imagine that they run on air—perhaps hot air.

The sad thing is that there are politicians in all parties and people in many well meaning organisations who have also been misled. Most of their publications have adopted the mantra that exercise and diet are the solution to obesity but few, if any, emphasise that diet is five times more important than exercise. Politicians persist in believing that the issue is about having a balance between diet and exercise because that is what the quango NICE says in its publications.

When one examines what NICE published in January 2010, one sees that it recommends exercise and diet on seven pages and on three other pages it puts it the other way round, as diet and exercise. Nowhere does it state that reducing calorie intake is much more important and effective in reducing weight. On page 21, it recommends that obese adults should take more exercise even if it does not lead to weight loss. If treatment is not working, why not try another treatment such as eating less, which is five times more effective? But perhaps the most impractical advice in this paper was that people who have lost weight may need to do an hour and a half of exercise a day to avoid regaining weight. I must say that I would have been very disappointed if any of my medical students had produced a document such as this. But there is good news. I went to see the director of NICE, who has now admitted that the institute got it wrong. I look forward to politicians accepting this new advice that diet is five times more important than exercise.

Why are people willing to turn a blind eye to this problem while millions of people suffer as a result? By saying that taking exercise is the answer, we avoid upsetting the millions of obese people whose excessive weight often prevents them exercising and we give them a good excuse to stay as they are. We deceive them by avoiding the heart of the matter which is that we need to eat less. Of course, those in the food industry are delighted to hear that lack of exercise and sports facilities are to blame for the obesity epidemic as that lets them off the hook.

I have been asked not to be negative about exercise because all the political parties have been campaigning to increase activity and they do not want this momentum to be torpedoed. I understand that. I would never be negative about exercise because it is of great importance for the integrity of the heart and the control of the wrong sort of cholesterol. Exercise also gives a sense of well-being and high morale, but that does not alter the fact that what we eat is five times more important than exercise when we are dealing with weight control.

The subject of obesity is beset with a number of red herrings. Many people believe that obesity is due to genetics, hormones, brown fat, psychological factors, sexual abuse and so on. These factors may help to explain why people eat too much but they are certainly not the cause of obesity. Those factors were around during the war when food was rationed but there was no obesity then, apart from those miscreants who were indulging on the black market.

Over the years, I have had many obese patients who have assured me that they eat very little and sometimes they were speaking the truth. Their obesity was due to their alcohol intake. Noble Lords will perhaps know that three cocktails such as mai tai will contain 1,000 calories. That is another hazard for the unwary.

There is a good deal of confusion about childhood obesity, which is now a very serious problem and getting worse. The organisation Change4Life has estimated that there are 1 million obese children under 16 in the UK, and around the world there are 2 million children under five who are overweight. We are beginning to see earlier and earlier the complications of obesity in these children, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

Again we are bedevilled by the obsession that exercise is the solution, but reliable long-term scientific research clearly shows that overeating is responsible and that it starts in the first five years of life. There was a misleading article in the Daily Telegraph on 8 November 2010 headed, “Exercise, not diet, key to obesity”. This was based on a Norwegian study which was fundamentally flawed. However, the same article mentioned the reliable work of Professor John Speakman of the University of Aberdeen, who presented unique data using state-of- the-art technology. He found that rising obesity levels were due to increasingly excessive food intake. The overall physical activity levels have been constant over the past 25 years while weight levels have soared due to the greatly increased calorie intake.

Professor TJ Wilkin of the Peninsula medical school has carried out a unique study, published in Archives of Disease in Childhood in 2009, that included annual measurements of physical activity and body composition over 12 years. This shows that obesity leads to inactivity, but inactivity does not lead to obesity. Furthermore it concluded that the pathway to obesity seems to be,

“set early in life, long before school age”.

This questions the rhetoric around school meals, computer screens, PE time, playing fields and physical activity, which, of course, is unstructured in early childhood. A recent meta-analysis incorporating 15 reports on over 13,000 children concluded that a nine year-old child subjected to intense pressure for 18 months would lose on average just three ounces, or 80 grams.

The obesity epidemic is killing millions, costing billions and the cure is free. Will Her Majesty’s Government embrace the essential fact that reducing food intake is five times more effective than exercise?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is consistent. I remember that we have crossed swords on this subject several times. The idea that exercise is a bad way of controlling weight is odd because fundamentally it misses the point. Exercise may make you gain weight. If you take exercise that uses muscle—for instance, my own sport of rugby union or rowing—you will get bigger. If you take these exercises your body will become more dense and solid; if you run, your body will become more solid and you will add extra muscle. The old adage is that if you go to the butchers and ask for a pound of fat and a pound of muscle you will discover which is the smaller unit—it is just there.

We can jump around here but the idea is that you are carrying too much fat. The body mass index is probably the worst measure of obesity and fitness because it throws up the anomaly of the sportsman emerging as the person who is going to die tomorrow. According to the body mass index, I did not make it to 30; neither did anyone else who played my sport at any level; and when Pinsent and Redgrave won their last combined gold medal they were heavily overweight and just missed being obese. These men are six foot five, so you can see how bad it is.

I am aware that I have an inferior medical knowledge but burning fat is probably the worst way to judge the way in which you use calories in exercise—I know I am sticking my neck out in saying this—because you burn up the calories when your body repairs the muscles, over a longer period of time, after exercise has put up your metabolism. This is fundamentally what your body does and different types of exercise will burn it at different rates.

It is also true that you have to take account of the number of calories going in and the number going out. If you live a sedentary life, it is absolutely obvious that you do not need extra calories. Exercise burns up calories, basically by rebuilding, reconditioning or changing muscle. You might burn off 15 calories by keeping fit in the gym but if, for example, you lift weights, you will burn off far more calories by rebuilding your muscles afterwards. However, if you are heavily overweight and eat far too much or eat the wrong thing sat in front of a TV screen, you are going to get heavier.

The fact is that, if we do not take exercise and we sit in front of a TV screen, the vast majority of us will eat or drink cups of tea laced with sugar. The same point applies to sugar in tea as it does to sugar in alcohol. If we spend a great deal of time being sedentary, most of us will consume calories at the same time. Many of us do not have the will-power to sit still for hours doing nothing without consuming calories. We live in a society where these no-need-to-cook, at-your-fingertips calories are easily available: you go to a supermarket and, after you have been good and bought the things that you have to cook, you buy lots of things that you do not have to cook. That is one of the barriers that we face.

How do we try to bring about a balance? The Government’s responsibility deal is a way forward, and I hope that we can get a bit more out of that than we have from some of the other schemes that we have had in the past. Primarily, we are not asking everyone to stop eating convenience foods, but we are trying to make those convenience foods potentially less lethal. However, how this will work, I do not know. Improvements have been made but are they happening quickly enough? There is no silver bullet. The previous Government tried hard to tackle the problem. They made people look at the problem but people still tend to be getting heavier, so which combination is right?

Total abstemiousness may be desirable but it is not something that we follow. Let us face it: we would not have to maintain sports grounds if we all did. Fast food is available to us and it has always been a part of our culture. History shows us that fish and chip shops and pie shops have always been there. All the things we like, such as salt and fat, are available and they give us a nice hit. We have to take that on board and try to educate people further. If people like these types of snacks, we have to try to make them less fatty.

Exercise plays a very important part for many people. If you are active and a reasonably keen amateur sportsman, then, apart from anything else, you are probably going to take slightly better care of yourself. Why would you not do so? Even if you only want to get from the third to the second team in your particular sport, then losing a couple of pounds and eating slightly better may have a part to play in that. When you are playing or running around training one, two or three nights a week, you are not sitting on your behind in front of a TV screen or in the pub. We must look at the issue in the round. The incentive to control your diet is increased by exercise. If you do not eat a great deal and are not carrying an extra few pounds of fairly soft tissue or fat, then, even if you just want to walk gently up a hill on a Sunday, it will be easier and more fun. Everyone enjoys the view more when they are not gasping for breath at the end of their walk and do not have incredible pain in their muscles. That is a fact.

I repeat: we have to look at things in the round. Physical activity and access to physical activity will help, if only as an incentive to eat better. Unless we make sure that that there are incentives to take part in social and physical activity and to think about the foods that we eat and the amount we eat, we are going to miss our targets. Let us make sure that, when we talk about diet, we talk about it in terms not just of consumption of calories but of the correct cycle of calories for activity.

I leave noble Lords with this. Everybody is gobsmacked by professional athletes—not by the amount they train but by the amount they eat. An Olympic gold medallist—I think it was Phelps in the last Olympics—said that he had to eat 4,000 calories a day. That is eight gold medals-worth of burgers. It means that people can actually eat a great deal and be very fit and healthy. I suggest that we need to look at this in the round and not get obsessed by any one activity.

Before the noble Lord sits down, would he recognise that I did not actually run down exercise? I specifically said it was a good thing. Also, how does he explain the scientific fact that only one-fifth of the calories we eat are expended in exercise?

My Lords, quite simply, if it is expended in exercise, it is not expended in the rebuilding of muscle. Rebuilding muscle is an important part of exercise—not the actual taking of exercise.

My Lords, you cannot really find fault with the logic of the noble Lord, Lord McColl—do not eat and you will not put on weight. The problem is that for most of us, if you mention food we want to eat. I am going to focus on strategy, but I cannot find fault in his logic.

The noble Lord has already referred to the fact that obesity is recognised as a major public health problem and that it may well be getting worse. A policy review of several countries, including the United Kingdom, finds common themes. All express concern at the prevalence of obesity, thought to be the result of over-consumption of energy-dense foods and inadequate levels of physical activity. Few countries have specific strategies; instead, obesity is tackled through separate policies of nutrition and physical activity. Policies often in general terms identify sets of actions without any firm commitments—often interventions that focus on schools, workplace and active transport. What is noticeable is the absence, almost, of fiscal and legislative interventions from policies; neither are the policies funded. The interventions are poorly supported by research or evidence. The proposed measurement of the effectiveness of policies is weak and not clearly formulated. The strategy to tackle the so-called “tsunami of obesity”, which threatens several countries in the world, is largely concerned with options for ways to develop policies rather than a set of interventions to reduce obesity.

We have known about the associations of obesity and disease, and the noble Lord, Lord McColl, mentioned some of them. There are some 17 different diseases that we know of that have associations with obesity, costing the health service in England in the region of £4 billion—costs that will exceed health costs due to tobacco and alcohol use. The joint report in January 2011 of the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Society of Edinburgh—and I declare an interest as a fellow of both—made some key recommendations on diabetes and obesity that have implications for policy research and management of patients with obesity and diabetes at individual and population level.

Obesity, as everybody understands, is a condition characterised by an individual having excess body fat caused by higher energy intake than expenditure. Excess energy is stored in the form of adipose tissue. Statistics have already been mentioned and are clear: 25 per cent of the adult population is obese and 65 per cent may well be overweight, while 23 per cent of children at reception in school are obese or overweight and 33 per cent of 10 to 11 year-olds are obese or overweight. Those are important findings from the child measurement studies. The pester power of children and the pushing of calorific foods to children by shops contributes to this. A well-known politician reportedly asked:

“As Britain faces an obesity crisis, why does WH Smith's promote half-price Chocolate Oranges at its checkouts instead of real oranges?”

When he said that, he was much applauded by the population and by the citizens. The politician was David Cameron.

I turn to the current Government’s strategy, or what it might be. We await the publication. The public health White Paper suggests that the Government will take a holistic approach with emphasis on personal responsibility and choice, but they will be reluctant to use regulation or legislation. The focus will be on voluntary agreements with industry through public health responsibility deals. Interventions are likely to be based on strong evidence, but there is not enough strong evidence, especially as NICE is asked to put the obesity interventions review on hold. There are suggestions that the Government will use the famous “ladder of interventions”, beginning with the least intrusive—information, education and so on—but regulation of industry or individuals will be used only if the initial steps of the ladder do not work. That is the well known nudge theory which involves no regulation, prompted choice and co-operation with the private sector, and it will be subject to strict post hoc evaluation.

I ask the Minister: what is the evidence that the nudge theory will work? What is the roadmap to evaluation? What measurements will be used and who will carry them out? A major plank of the policy is the responsibility deal. Who will lead that responsibility deal? Who will be responsible for it? Could the noble Earl comment on the reports that several charities and consumer organisations have withdrawn, seeing it as industry influencing consumers rather than reforming their business practices?

I hope that the Government will take on board in their strategy several issues that have some evidence as to their effectiveness. They are such simple things as a front-of-pack colour-coded labelling scheme for foodstuffs; a ban on advertising on television before 9 pm of food that is high in fat, sugar or salt; a continuation of the national child measurement programme; information on calorie content on all products; a commitment from local authorities to provide, to protect and to maintain the environment that will enhance physical activity; promotion of research into psychology and anthropology of behavioural change; cost effectiveness of interventions; and, lastly, a ban on trans-fats in all foods, as I have said before. Strategies that demonstrate reduction in childhood obesity are key indicators of success and, therefore, the childhood measurement programme should be continued.

My Lords, I would like to intervene briefly to express some marginally politically incorrect sentiments, because I share concerns expressed by Members of the Committee about the scale of the problem of obesity nationally, which I think is huge.

Perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me, but we were not notified that he had his name on the speaking list.

I am afraid that there is; this is a timed debate. However, as one of the speakers has scratched, the noble Lord can speak for four minutes in the gap.

I intend to intervene only briefly. I support the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and congratulate him on introducing this debate. His speech is worthy of passing around our friends and colleagues because it would have made a very good after-dinner speech. Although it was amusing, it dealt with an extremely serious subject.

My noble friend Lord Patel raised the issue of calorific information on food products sold in stores and particularly in restaurants. The other week I went into a Harvester restaurant which I had never been into before. I noticed that every item on the menu had its calorific content in bold lettering, so much so that I cannot believe that people who eat in those restaurants are not aware of and do not take into account the calorific content when they order their food. I am told that in parts of the world, particularly in America, the authorities in some cities insist on calorific information being provided on all menus in restaurants.

I wonder why we cannot do something similar here in the United Kingdom. I know that the Government are not over-wedded to the principle of too much regulation, but when so much is at stake arising out of problems of obesity and their consequences for health service expenditure, why can we not grasp the nettle in this area and introduce a regulatory framework for food manufacturers whereby the general public really do have to sit down and consider what they eat daily? If we were to do that, I believe that it would certainly have some consequence for obesity.

I return to being slightly politically incorrect. There is another problem as well. Families are often simply not prepared to raise the issue internally. There is an embarrassment about fatness. People just do not want to talk about it. Even among one’s colleagues, here or anywhere, we do not talk about whether people are fat or thin. We have to get over that because a huge problem is developing, in part due to an element of political incorrectness which is reflected in how the media and the industry treat the subject.

I am sorry if I did not comply completely with the rules. Having come from the Commons, and as I normally speak only at Report, in Committee and on Third Reading, I am not used to listings during debates.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on his persistence in calling this debate; he is well known for his concern about this issue. I also offer congratulations to my noble friend Lord Brooke on having lost a lot of weight by reducing his intake of food by 10 per cent since June last year. I am not going to tell the Committee what he has gone to or from, but it is very impressive. In a way, that proves a point made in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McColl.

I address my remarks to the growing crisis that is childhood obesity. There are high levels of concern about obesity in westernised society, and about obesity in children in particular. The National Child Measurement Programme was implemented in the UK to monitor changes in average body size among children who are starting or about to leave primary education. It showed that, in 2008-09, almost one in 10 children—9.6 per cent—aged four to five was obese, while for 10 to 11 year-olds the figure was almost one in five, or 18.3 per cent. Over the past 10 years obesity among six year-olds has doubled, and it has trebled among 15 year-olds. With such levels of obesity, diseases such as type 2 diabetes are now being seen for the first time in children.

I draw on a recently published report entitled The views of young children in the UK about obesity, body size, shape and weight: a systematic review. It was undertaken for BMC Public Health and published on 25 March, and I commend it to all noble Lords. Among other things, it states that recent research shows that,

“Children are likely to experience immediate physical and psychosocial problems as a result of being obese and are at a higher risk of obesity as they grow older”.


“Children’s attitudes to and beliefs about their bodies”,

including high levels of body dissatisfaction, raise enormous concerns.

I have to confess that so far, taking their rhetoric with all possible seriousness, I am underwhelmed by the Government’s strategy for tackling childhood obesity. It seems that they are intent on removing all the levers that might make a difference nationally. For example, today the school dinner grant loses its ring-fencing and can be used to cover other budgets in schools which, it is safe to say, will lead to a rise in prices of possibly up to 17 per cent and a fall in take-up of school meals. The official national statistics on school lunch prices show that the average price for a two-course meal across primary and secondary schools with catering provided by the local authority was £1.88 in 2009-10. The Observer reported yesterday that more than 30 local authorities plan to increase the cost to children in the coming months, with some schools seeing an increase of as much as 17 per cent to £2.60.

Research by the School Food Trust reveals, not surprisingly, that the uptake of school meals correlates with price changes. According to its studies, a typical lunch brought in from home is not as nutritious as the average school lunch, which must meet national food standards. Packed lunches can also be repetitive. Therefore, despite reports of increased lunch fees in some areas, the School Food Trust says that it is “really encouraged” that many schools have continued to put the same level of investment into their school meals and has welcomed proposals to make it easier for schools to offer price deals such as ‘buy one get one free’ for larger families. Indeed, writing in yesterday’s Observer, Jamie Oliver said that he hopes the Government will continue to invest in,

“quality school food and the integral support and training of kitchen staff”.

However, we then have to add into the mix on school meals that the Welfare Reform Bill is a leap in the dark on this matter and raises the issue of the future of free school meals. Apart from the fact that it may mean children who need them may not get them, it introduces instability in funding.

Food education in schools is also incredibly important. It was made compulsory for children in secondary schools in 2008 and is due to come into schools this September. However, it is already under threat of being removed from the curriculum completely.

On nursery schools, in responding to the publication of recommendations by a government-commissioned panel on voluntary food and nutrition guidance for early years settings in England, Charlie Powell, director of the Children’s Food Campaign, said:

“While we welcome the substance of the recommendations from the Advisory Panel on Food and Nutrition in Early Years, we already know—from years of experience—that more voluntary guidance is almost certain to be largely ignored”.

That is simply not good enough. We should have legal standards for nursery food.

I agree with what Charlie Powell said when the Health Secretary announced the responsibility deals. He stated:

“They are little more than a continuation of schemes that were being done anyway by the Food Standards Agency—until the Government took away its nutrition remit”.

So instead of introducing effective measures to tackle alarming levels of childhood obesity—such as regulation to protect children from junk food marketing—the Government’s pledges require little or no extra work on the part of food businesses, which are delighted by the support they are receiving from the Government.

I urge the Department of Health to ensure that these voluntary commitments are independently monitored and evaluated and to set a timetable for regulation for when, as we expect, they fail to improve public health. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, it is an embarrassment that Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation joined alcohol health charities in not signing up to the deal.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the head of science and ethics at the BMA, said:

“Children and parents are surrounded by the marketing of unhealthy cereals, snacks and processed meals. This has to stop”.

Two of the partners in the Government’s responsibility deal had the following to say. The Food and Drink Federation rejected the need for restrictions on advertising and a spokesman said:

“Any simplistic scheme that demonises products does not take into account the complexity of people’s lifestyles and the way they eat”.

The boss of McDonalds, Peter Beresford, has made clear that he rejects TV advertising restrictions. He said that McDonalds is not to blame for rising obesity, adding:

“There is no good food or bad food, only bad diets”.

Statistics show that about 70 per cent of commercials shown during children’s viewing are for food and that, of these, between 80 per cent and 100 per cent are for junk food. We are sending the wrong messages to children at a time when we are seeing this terrible increase in weight problems. As noble Lords will be aware, because I promoted a Private Member’s Bill on this matter some years ago, I am strongly opposed to allowing advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar during the pre-watershed hours. National Consumer Council expert Sue Dibb has said:

“Anything less than full restrictions on TV ads and promotions for high fat, salt and sugar foods before the 9 pm watershed would be extremely disappointing”.

I agree with that.

On sport and exercise, the Government’s record is again not good. We saw last year the U-turn that they had to make on school sports and the scrapping by the DCMS of the free swimming programme, designed to be a key part of the London 2012 legacy plans. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patel, that nudge and suggestion have yet to prove themselves. I have not limited myself to talking about the Department of Health because this is a cross-government matter. I therefore have two questions for the Minister: is there a cross-government approach, and where are the interventions and levers? Although I shall not repeat the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, I add my name to them.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising this important issue, about which he knows a very great deal. I value the insights that he was able to give us in his most informative introductory speech.

Obesity is one of our biggest public health challenges. In England, three-fifths of all adults and more than a quarter of children aged two to 10 are overweight or obese. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, reminded us of some other statistics in that connection.

Already, more teenagers and young adults are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Experts tell us that if obesity stays at anywhere near its current high levels the health of the population will deteriorate dramatically in the years ahead. For instance, the National Heart Forum has predicted that, by 2050, the number of people getting diabetes because of their weight will nearly double and those with heart disease caused by obesity will rise by 44 per cent.

Our first thought has to be the human cost. Just as obesity cuts years from a person’s life, it also takes life from a person’s years. Statistics do not really convey the long-term effects of diabetes. They include limb amputations, long-term disability, chronic pain and heart disease, robbing people of their energy, their independence and their chances of a decent quality of life.

The other consideration is financial cost. Obesity already costs the NHS £4.2 billion. That figure is set to double by 2050. The prognosis is simple: make rapid progress or face a personal and financial catastrophe within a generation. As a country, we need to change our behaviour. The White Paper on public health sets out a new approach to improving people’s health that is locally centred, outcomes-driven and professionally led.

New local health and well-being boards will help to bring together the NHS and local government under a shared local strategy. The outcomes framework for public health will provide consistent measures to judge progress, and this includes two potential indicators covering obesity. Public Health England, a new, dedicated national public health service, will provide the resources, ideas and evidence to support local strategies. A specific obesity document will follow, setting out how the new system will work to reduce obesity levels.

However, as important as systems and structures may be, this is also about changing cultures. It is about encouraging greater personal responsibility. We have found that the state does not have all the answers, and the more the state intervenes, the more individual responsibility shrinks back. Rather than nannying people, we must nudge them, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, reminded us, giving them the support and encouragement they need to look after their own health.

Although the noble Lord, Lord Patel, raised this subject, he expressed some doubts about its efficacy. I simply say to him that the Government cannot change people’s behaviour; what they can do is help people to change their behaviour themselves by encouraging them, rewarding them, making it easier and making it the norm. We can provide information to individuals to help them to make informed decisions about their health and we can provide encouragement, which we are already doing.

The noble Lord was doubtful whether the voluntary approach would work. I share his wish for an evidence-based evaluation of whatever we do. That is a core component of the responsibility deal and we are investing in it. However, as part of our new approach, we will consider what can be achieved through voluntary approaches before considering regulation. People’s lifestyle choices are affecting their health. The Government cannot address that challenge on their own. We believe that collective voluntary effort can deliver more progress and do so more quickly than regulation. Through the public health responsibility deal, we can tap into the unrealised potential of a wide range of resources that can promote healthier lifestyles and support people in achieving them. We have examples of working with industry, and this approach works. Change4Life is a recent example of how we have successfully worked with industry. We firmly believe that collective voluntary efforts can deliver real progress. The responsibility deal and deliverables arising from it have to deliver real improvements to public health, and we are looking at what independent monitoring or evaluation will be needed to that end.

While obesity often has complex social, psychological and cultural foundations, its basic cause is simple. My noble friend Lord McColl spoke about energy balance in its broadest sense. He is right: people become overweight because they take in more calories than is necessary and they do not burn off the excess calories that they do not need. I do not think that my noble friend was arguing against that proposition. It is a point clearly made in the NICE guidance on obesity and being overweight, and it is central to the Government’s approach. The NICE guidelines on obesity address the prevention, identification and management of obesity. They stress the importance of addressing both diet and energy out. The guidelines were based on the best available evidence that NICE had at its disposal at the time. However, my noble friend will be reassured to hear that NICE’s clinical guidelines are updated as required so that recommendations take into account important new information, and the obesity guideline is no exception to that.

My noble friend referred to the work of Professor Wilkin. The department is familiar with the EarlyBird diabetes study by Professor Wilkin. The study makes some useful points concerning the importance of early-life experiences for future health. It provides some useful messages on the importance of a child’s early years and the impact that this can have on the child’s future health and behaviour. However, this is one study which needs to be seen alongside other research with different findings on physical activity and weight.

My noble friend Lord McColl made very clear his emphasis on diet as the more important ingredient in weight loss. However, I think he would agree that any planned weight management programme should be tailored to the person’s preferences—their initial fitness, their health status in general and their lifestyle. The NICE guideline recognises that relatively high levels of activity may be required by certain individuals wishing to lose weight or maintain weight following weight loss. However, it also emphasises that, while an individual’s ability to be physically active may be hampered by their initial level of fitness or comorbidities, physical activity recommendations can be built up gradually, be focused on everyday activities, such as walking, and be accompanied by a reduction in sedentary behaviour. The guideline includes a raft of recommendations for clinical practice on dietary management.

Therefore, what is to be done? First, we need to give people the information and the opportunities so that people can choose to change their diet and lifestyle. A powerful way of doing this is through the Change4Life brand, which helps people to cut down on fatty and sugary foods and become more active. Another is working with industry to guide people towards healthier choices. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked why we cannot ask restaurants and so on to place calorific content on menus. Through the responsibility deal, we now have 29 partners who are committed to posting calorific content on their menus in more than 4,000 restaurants. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned trans-fats, and my noble friend Lord Addington also referred to the fat content of food. They are both quite right. They will be pleased to hear that businesses have already committed themselves to removing artificial trans-fats from foods so that people can keep the tastes they enjoy without suffering such negative consequences. We shall continue to work with industry on other measures to help people to reduce their calorie intake, including reformulation. We will say more in the obesity document when it is published later this year.

A second issue is improving access to healthier food. In some areas, local shops simply do not stock healthier options. We are working with the Association of Convenience Stores to make fresh fruit and vegetables more available. The scheme has expanded incredibly quickly, with participating stores seeing a marked increase in the sale of fruit and vegetables. Of course, even if people have fresh produce, they still need to know what to do with it, so education is vital. There are many great local initiatives—involving the NHS, local authorities and a range of partners—which provide cookery schools and other local healthier eating initiatives.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, spoke very eloquently about school food, and I agree with a lot of what she said. The Government are committed to ensuring that pupils can eat healthy, nutritious school food. We are supporting the School Food Trust in its work to help caterers to become more efficient while continuing to provide healthy meals. The schools budget will increase by £3.6 billion in cash terms by 2014-15—the end of the spending review period. Although the school lunch grant will not remain as a specific grant, it will be one of the grants that make up schools’ baseline funding from 2011-12. It will, however, no longer be ring-fenced; it will be for schools to decide how to spend the money.

We have not changed the current rules for free school meals. Therefore, some 900,000 pupils in the neediest families—those without work—continue to receive free meals. We took the difficult decision not to extend eligibility to low-income working families because the previous Government had underfunded this plan by £295 million. The money saved by not extending eligibility will be used more directly to improve the educational attainment of disadvantaged pupils, which is key to extending opportunities for poorer children. We are continuing to support three pilot projects of extended free school meals. We will look at the evidence from these of the costs and benefits of extending free school meals before making any future decisions on this front.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, also mentioned advertising. As she knows, the television regulator, Ofcom, has placed scheduling restrictions on the broadcast advertising of food high in fat, salt and sugar during children’s programmes and programmes of particular appeal to children up to the age of 16. Since January 2009, these restrictions have applied to all channels. The Ofcom review in 2010 showed a 37 per cent reduction in the exposure of children to television HFSS advertising, with the highest reduction for children aged four to nine years, and a fall of 22 per cent in children—

Perhaps I may stop the noble Earl for a moment. In the first few moments of his speech he spelt out the scale of the crisis, yet almost all the measures that he has referred to are voluntary. They are based on an agreement with the industry or with this or that body. If that is not working—and it clearly is not, because the noble Earl himself set out the nature of the crisis—why, at an early stage, cannot we go down a more regulatory route?

I hope that the Committee will allow me a little extra time in view of that intervention. The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is that if voluntary measures do not work, we will indeed consider regulation. I need to make that clear. We have a ladder of intervention at our disposal. However, as I also emphasised to him earlier, we think that we can make progress faster by means of voluntary measures. The food labelling regulations, for example, are governed by EU law, and the noble Lord will know how long it takes to change EU law. If we can make progress more rapidly by voluntary measures in this country, I am sure that he would welcome that as everybody else would.

On the other side of the coin, although equally important, is physical activity—the calories we burn rather than consume. My noble friend Lord McColl made some strong statements on that aspect of the issue but, as my noble friend Lord Addington indicated, physical activity is important in the wider context of people’s health. The public messaging on this clearly has to be balanced. We are currently reviewing the Chief Medical Officer guidelines on recommended levels of physical activity and we hope to publish those in the summer. Incidentally, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Addington has underlined the importance of diet and exercise because I still believe that the two should be emphasised.

Finally, we need to make sure that those who need it can get the specialist help to reduce and manage their weight effectively. Weight management providers will continue to play a key role in this area. I believe that through the new public health system, with the responsibility deal and Change4Life, we can truly make a difference over the next few years.

Education: 16 to 18 Year-olds

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to offer support to 16 to 18 year-old students in full-time education.

My Lords, I intervene at this point because we believe that a Division in the Chamber is imminent. We must make a start but once the Division is called, I then have to suspend the Committee immediately for 10 minutes. I am extremely sorry if that interrupts anybody’s flow of speech but I thought it important to mention it.

Thank you for that warning.

I am grateful to noble Lords for speaking in this not so packed Room in this short debate on support for 16 to 18 year-olds in full-time education. It is rather sad that the Room is not packed for such an important topic. I am particularly grateful that my noble friend Lord Fink is with us. We are delighted that he is making his maiden speech and we very much look forward to his contribution. I actually sought this debate in July 2010 and it is testimony to the potency of EMAs that, despite last week’s announcement of a very welcome replacement bursary scheme, the question of support for 16 to 19 year-olds remains a contentious issue. Indeed, when the Mayor of London argued on BBC “Question Time” last week that the new scheme did not go far enough, he expressed—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, I am very grateful that we are having this debate on support for 16 to 18 year-olds and particularly delighted that my noble friend Lord Fink has chosen to make his maiden speech this evening. I sought this debate in July 2010 and it really is testimony to the potency of this issue that, despite the Secretary of State’s very welcome Statement last week, the issue of support for 16 to 19-year-olds remains contentious. Indeed, when the Mayor of London—an uncontentious figure—argued on BBC “Question Time” last week that the new scheme did not go far enough, he expressed the views of many of us who believe that the Government produced little sound evidence for ending EMAs and threatening participation, other than the need to save money.

The decision to save £560 million by scrapping EMAs was hardly unexpected. Indeed, given the parlous state of our finances, I appreciate that the money had to come from somewhere. However, the argument for doing so—that this was an ill targeted scheme, that it was unsuccessful and that it had huge deadweight costs—simply did not bear scrutiny. The Government largely pray in aid the 2007 IFS evaluation, claiming that 90 per cent of students in receipt of EMAs would have stayed on regardless. Those are the so-called deadweight costs. Yet the IFS did not make that claim. Rather, it was a somewhat shoddy report by the NFER that surveyed students prior to them even entering post-16 education. In fact, the IFS concluded in 2007 that the EMA achieved its aim of increasing and retaining participation by some six percentage points—the key aims of the previous and the current Governments.

What is more, if deadweight costs are to be key criteria for revenue reduction, what about the winter fuel allowances for the over 60s, many of whom, like those in your Lordships’ House, could well afford their own heating? What about subsidised student loans, which go predominantly to the better-off, not to mention child benefits paid to large numbers of those whose children are not remotely at risk? Indeed, a far more reliable source of evidence about the effectiveness of EMAs came from the CfBT Education Trust 2009 research project, Should we end the Education Maintenance Allowance?, which clearly showed the success of the programme. So does the mountain of direct survey evidence from the AoC, the 157 Group and from schools, demonstrating the crucial part that EMAs have played in providing support for students, especially for travel and equipment and particularly for vocational courses.

However, the Minister will be surprised to hear that I am not calling for the EMA scheme to be retained. The direction of travel announced by the Secretary of State last week is right and I pay tribute both to the Government and to my honourable friend Simon Hughes, the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, for producing an interesting proposal. It passes responsibility to schools and colleges for its execution and secures £70 million of Treasury cash to achieve the welcome but modest £180 million budget for the new scheme. Perhaps the Minister, in his summing up, will confirm that this is new money and that he is not simply top-slicing existing 16 to 19 programmes.

I am calling for the restoration of more of the £570 million that the scheme currently spends so that a wider group of students can be supported. Without a larger bursary fund we cannot start to tackle issues such as travel costs, which are one of the largest obstacles to participation and retention post 16.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, for the third time, I am making the case not to retain the EMA scheme as it stands but to retain a significant part of its budget. However, to make a credible case for retaining resources while still delivering substantial savings to the Treasury actually requires us to think differently. I concede that young people from families with household income of up to £16,200 a year—the maximum income level for free school meals—have largely been protected to some degree by the bursary proposals, although the IFS paper last Tuesday made a different assessment. But if parents have a joint gross income above £30,800, young people at present do not get a single penny of EMA. My concern is that the Government are putting at risk participation by young people from families with incomes between £16,200 and £30,800—hardly the affluent middle classes.

There is a widespread belief that 16 to 19 financial support is simply limited to EMAs; it is not. There are two other significant sources of financial support: 16 to 19 child benefit and 16 to 19 child tax credit, which are treated not as education but as social security. However, at 16 plus, child benefit and child tax credit are not paid to parents for every child. They are paid only on condition that young people are in full-time education or unwaged training. Parents with 16 to 19 year-olds in jobs, apprenticeships, part-time education and those not in education, employment and training—the NEET group—do not receive child benefit or child tax credit. That is, some 15 per cent of all 16 to 18 year-olds.

I am inviting the Minister to view 16 to 19 child benefit and 16 to 19 child tax credit as financial support for education, not simply for social security. Currently, around £1.5 billion is spent on 16 to 19 child benefit and £2.3 billion is spent on child tax credit, which, when added to the EMA spending, amounts not to £700 million but to £4.3 billion of taxpayer support. Is the Minister confident that this entire £4.3 billion pot is being deployed in such a way that maximises post-16 participation, supports students and delivers value for money for taxpayers? No doubt the Minister will argue, correctly, that the Government are increasing the level of means-tested child tax credit, including for families with 16 to 19 year-olds in full-time further education. But at the same time the availability of child tax credits is being scaled back to those with a gross household income of around £26,000 from 2012-13. In any event, the extra payments for those below £26,000 a year were never intended to compensate for the loss of EMA which, as the Secretary of State has admitted, is up to £1,000 a year.

No one can deny that the EMA is not progressive, as payments are restricted to young people from households where less than £30,800 is coming in, but if there are deadweight costs in the EMA, what is the level of deadweight cost in 16 to 19 child benefit? The reality is that 16 to 19 year-olds from better-off families will stay on in full-time education irrespective of whether their parents get £20.30 or £13.40 in child benefit.

A week ago in the other place the Secretary of State argued that,

“there are real questions as to whether it is socially just to pay 45% of students a cash incentive to stay in learning when we could concentrate our resources on removing the barriers to learning faced by the poorest”.—[Official Report, Commons; 28/3/11; col. 52.]

The fact that he made that statement is quite interesting. If that is the case, how can it be socially just to pay child benefit to better-off families with 16 to 19 year-olds who will stay on anyway? So rather than cut £360 million in financial support from the EMA, which risks reducing participation of young people from relatively poor families, the Government should look at finding the £360 million from 16 to 19 child benefit paid to better-off families, which will not put participation at risk. That is the tenor of my argument. At present, the Government have opted to divert EMA funding from the relatively poor to the poorest, rather than divert 16 to 19 child benefit funding from the better-off to the relatively poor. We should debate that argument.

I believe that there is an overwhelming case for decoupling payments of nought-to-16 child benefit, paid to every child, and payments of 16 to 19 child benefit paid only to young people in full-time education and unwaged training. I also believe a common means test should apply to financial support for all 16 to 19 year-olds. I accept that that would extend means-testing. If you are going to target support, you have to have some form of means-testing.

As for balancing the books, my noble friend Lord Sassoon provided Written Answers to me on 7 December about potential savings from restricting 16 to 19 child benefit. For illustrative purposes, if 16 to 19 child benefit was restricted to those with less than £31,500—just £700 above the present maximum threshold for the EMA—the Treasury could save a whopping £875 million. Restricted to those with a gross household income of £37,500, the savings would be £600 million, with the equivalent savings just for England being £740 million and £510 million. I am arguing that there is an alternative way of providing the support for 16 to 19 year-olds, which could be targeted through the bursary scheme hugely effectively following the Government’s proposals, and by thinking differently about how we use the maximum resource rather than having pots of money in silos which do not move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Willis, for securing a debate in which I can make my maiden speech. While I have spent the majority of my time in the Lords in the Chamber, it gives me particular pleasure to make my maiden speech in the Moses Room. As well as the ancient ancestral connection, I also feel that the warmth and intimacy of this Room offers a comfortable place for making such a speech. To have the chance to speak in a debate on supporting 16 to 18 year-olds in full-time education is a particular pleasure as it touches on two or three strands of my particular interest and family history.

I thank your Lordships for the warm welcome that I have received from so many of you during my three months in the House, and in particular the staff of the House, who have shown great patience and helpfulness to me. I also thank my introducing Lords, my noble friends Lord Harris of Peckham and Lord Howard of Lympne, for the warmth of their introduction and my mentor, my noble friend Lady Fookes, for the time and patience she has shown me.

My life and family journey have been centred around education, which is one reason I was particularly pleased to make my speech on this subject. Growing up in Manchester in a happy family, albeit of modest circumstances, I never visited the Palace of Westminster, let alone dreamt that one day I would be privileged to attend your Lordships’ House. It is for this reason that I feel both very fortunate and humbled to be standing here.

My main education was at the Manchester Grammar School, where I received a free place to study as my parents could not have afforded to pay the fees. While I remember my early years at school with fond memories, I was acutely aware of the privilege I had in studying my chosen A-level subjects in science, together with free options to study one or two other unrelated subjects. Given how much I enjoyed and benefited from those last two years at school, I would not wish to see any other child deprived of that opportunity for financial reasons.

A law degree at Cambridge was a relatively dramatic change of direction for me but I saw it as a good way to study some arts subjects to balance my more natural skills in mathematics and science. However, being a mediocre lawyer, I was rapidly tempted to move back to accountancy and business, which I did after leaving Cambridge in 1979. Since then, my 30-year business career has spanned time in both industry and banking but, for the most part, I have worked in the world of investment management. I was proud to be able to work at Man Group for over 20 years and to help it develop from a medium-sized commodity trading business into a financial services group.

One of the reasons I left Man in 2008 was that I had suffered from a brain tumour three years earlier which had required major neural surgery. I received extraordinary treatment at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queen Square, where I was fortunate enough to be treated and diagnosed by a neurologist who, coincidentally, happened to be a friend from university, together with an incredibly dedicated neural surgeon as well as a fabulous team of nurses and speech therapists, who looked after me for nearly four weeks and helped me to speak again.

Along the way, I always tried to practice philanthropy in the way my parents had instilled in me, starting off in youth voluntary work, which was how I met my wife, Barbara. As well as managing to do some good on visits to the elderly people in Manchester, we made good friends with each other, of course, and with others. As well as supporting community causes, today my real philanthropic passions are the improvement of children’s health and education. I believe that with these two attributes the potential of our children is infinite, yet with poor health or education early lives are sadly blighted. I also never take for granted the joy of being blessed with three healthy and well educated children.

Noble Lords can see that these two main themes strike deep chords with my life experience and hence my commitment and passion. For this reason, I became a trustee of Absolute Return for Kids, which is a leading UK children’s charity focused on children’s health and education issues. That charity has the aspiration in education that every student should have the opportunity to go to university and that we should try to achieve five or more good GCSEs for each student under our care. The charity currently operates about 10 schools, and growing, in some of the poorest inner-city boroughs, mainly in London but, increasingly, in the Midlands.

In a personal capacity, I became a very enthusiastic supporter of the academy schools programme, directly supporting two schools: the North Liverpool Academy and Burlington Danes Academy in Hammersmith. The students at both these schools face enormous challenges and in both cases the ratio of children receiving free school meals is around 50 per cent, which is one of the highest marks of deprivation. Both schools also face non-financial challenges. In the case of Liverpool, it is a dependency culture, with many children coming from homes where there is literally no memory of a successful job. In the case of Hammersmith, it is a school with a large proportion of recent immigrants whose natural language is not English, many of whom are from Somalia.

What I have found so inspiring about the academy programme is that with the help of really committed staff many of the students’ lives have been transformed, while the rate of successful passes at GCSE has improved dramatically over the past four or five years, from less than half the national average to approaching 70 per cent in both schools. It is vital that schools have the ability to keep these less well off students in full-time education until the age of 18, at which point the students can choose whether to go to university or into a relatively skilled job or apprenticeship.

While I recognise and appreciate the necessity of saving public funds during a period of such fiscal constraints, I fully commend the coalition Government for focusing financial support on such students between the ages of 16 and 18 who are most needy, when financing those students makes a key difference in enabling them to remain in full-time education. I also believe and hope that the students who may miss out on the tightened criteria will also continue to proceed to A-level. The drop-out rate of the most able students is a statistic that might be monitored over the next three or four years, in order to see whether the targeting has adverse consequences. The first cohort of students from Burlington Danes Academy is finishing its A-levels this summer and I would be tremendously proud to see the first of these students go to a good university.

In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords for the kindness, courtesy and advice that I have received from all the Members of the House and look forward to being able to make a positive contribution over time.

My Lords, it is my pleasure to thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fink, on his maiden speech. Like myself, he comes from the north of England and therefore he and I are very modest. Modesty forbad him from telling your Lordships how successful he was in business. I read that in the 12 years that he was managing director of his Man Group, he managed to increase its assets under management 70-fold. That may be the reason why he was appointed the treasurer of the Conservative Party in October 2010.

Apart from being a committed business person, the noble Lord is also a committed philanthropist and a very successful fundraiser. He has told us about his chairmanship of ARK; he has also worked on the Mayor of London’s charity and Guy's and St Thomas' Charity and was chairman of the 2009 Lord Mayor’s Appeal. But his most successful fundraising was £10 million for the Evelina Children's Hospital Appeal. Your Lordships will have noticed how very passionate he is about education and health, and I am quite sure that it is on those subjects that we will hear very much more from him.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Willis on his groundhog day speech. He explained with great cogency and passion the point that he makes about the financing of student support for 16 to 18s. I welcome the statement on the EMA replacement and I do not believe that it was a U-turn, as some are saying. Some £110 million was put aside immediately the abolition of the EMA as it stood was announced. Simon Hughes was commissioned to work out how to target that money better, and he has been working on it for months. I do not believe that the EMA had been well targeted. Even Labour acknowledged that it had planned to restructure 16 to 19 financial support anyway in 2013 once participation became compulsory up to 17 and, two years later, 18. It also planned to use the EMA as a replacement for child benefit for 16 to 19 year-olds. I welcome the fact that the poorest students will be better off under this more targeted system and that schools and colleges, which know their students’ needs better than any centralised system, will be charged with distributing the enhanced discretionary funds.

As to the groups included in roughly the 1,200 of the poorest young people who will get a bursary as of right, can the Minister tell me whether they include asylum seekers?

Transport was cited as the greatest issue of concern by many students and colleges. It could be a real attraction if colleges were allowed to guarantee that free transport would be provided to students within their catchment area. Can the Minister confirm that they will be able to do this under the new arrangements?

Colleges need information as soon as possible about how the new system will work so that they can communicate with their students and potential students, who are, at this moment, considering whether they can afford to stay on. Can the Minister say how soon colleges will get the details of the operation of the new system? The consultation is out now but when will the conclusions be drawn?

Although financial support is very important, I should like to take the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, somewhat wider to include curriculum and careers advice, partly because I could not have addressed the financial issues as well as he did. Two recent reports have commented on these two issues—the review of vocational education by Alison Wolf and the recent report from Demos and the Private Equity Foundation, called The Forgotten Half, about the 50 per cent of young people who do not go to university. Both reports have important points for our consideration in this debate.

There are to be changes to careers advice with the establishment of an all-age service. Schools will have a duty to provide independent advice and Connexions will be scrapped. I am concerned that there will be a 12-month gap between the scrapping of the one and the establishment of the other—a hole through which some young people could fall. Can the Minister say how the Government will avoid this?

Careers advice should be high quality, comprehensive and timely. I think that there should be an entitlement to careers advice which is available face to face and not just online. Alternative paths to work and work with training need to be explained to these young people. Advice about apprenticeships must be given to all young people as of right. An entitlement to this was dropped from an earlier Bill under the previous Government. Do this Government plan to reinstate it?

Work is currently being done on the curriculum. Schools are very affected by the various ways in which they are measured. The latest of these is the EBac. I have concerns in relation to young people aged from 14 to 19 who are disengaged and are more likely to be engaged by a more practical and vocational curriculum. I do not want to see schools making it impossible for young people to choose a combination of courses to suit their needs. Of course, it is important to provide a foundation in core subjects but my view is that the EBac categories are too narrow and will suit only the half that go to college or university. Yes, all our children should study a humanity, a language and a science subject, as well as English and maths, but is it really necessary for them to take a GCSE in all of them? They will already have had eight years of all those subjects before they start on their GCSE courses as part of the school curriculum from age five to 13, so it can hardly be said that they have studied no history if they do not take history GCSE.

The university technical colleges have the right idea. They offer technical training opportunities for 11 to 19 year-olds. Today we are considering 16 to 18 year-olds, in particular, but it is important that they have had the right range of opportunities further down the school.

However, there is no doubt that vocational education requires revision. Alison Wolf quoted it to be,

“sclerotic, expensive, centralised and over-detailed”.

We need to look at the courses that she described as dead-end courses which lead nowhere and which are sometimes currently ascribed as equivalent to several GCSEs. Crucially, we need to listen to employers as to what they need from young people starting work, and it is clearly not just GCSEs that they are looking for. The CBI welcomed Wolf’s focus on English and maths, ensuring that young people continue to study them beyond 16 if they have not achieved a grade C GCSE. I agree with that proposal, but do the Government plan to accept it, too?

The Demos report also focuses on the importance of literacy and numeracy, but it adds three additional “proven labour market premiums” which, it says, provide the best insurance for young people against becoming NEETs. They are: a character premium, which is basically acquisition of the soft or wider skills; a technical premium, essentially a level 3 qualification; and a graduate premium. It calculates that, if you have all five, you stand the best chance of progressing in the labour market. It is on the soft skills that I want to speak finally.

There are many young people who do not get from their home environment communication skills, problem-solving, punctuality, perseverance, conscientiousness, the ability to work in a team, social and emotional maturity, drive and energy, initiative, ability to adapt to change, the skills needed to learn new things et cetera—all the things that make a successful employee. It is important for those young people that schools and colleges provide opportunities to develop all those. This is where PSHE comes in, as well as courses such as the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness, Wider Key Skills and other qualifications developed by ASDAN and other providers. Last week, I was at a function where employers told how, when they interview, they look for young people with these skills as well as the appropriate academic qualifications. That is why these courses are as important to making a child life-ready and work-ready as English, maths et cetera. That is why I would like reassurance from the Minister that the department will discriminate carefully between these high-quality courses and qualifications and those dead-end, over-equivalenced courses that Alison Wolf was talking about. Schools must continue to be credited for these qualifications in the league tables. If we are dedicated to improving social mobility in this country, and this Government are, we must ensure that the most disadvantaged young people, as they approach the end of their compulsory schooling, are given the skills for life that the more advantaged children learn at home.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willis of Knaresborough, on securing this debate, not least because it took him nine months and I admire his perseverance. I also join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Fink, on an admirable maiden speech. I am sure that he will make a considerable contribution to the workings of this House and I look forward to witnessing it.

The Government tell us that the EMA has to go because it has not proved its worth. Yet research by the 157 Group has shown that, in some colleges, the EMA has boosted attendance and course completion to more than 90 per cent. Students at Lambeth College in south London who receive the EMA are 13 per cent more likely to pass their courses than those who do not.

In its report assessing the success of the EMA, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that it resulted in a 20 per cent increase in participation among females and 14 per cent among males. A DfES survey found that the figure was, across the board, some 12 per cent. Surely a policy that increases participation among those groups most prone to chronic underachievement by somewhere in the 12 to 20 per cent range is a successful one, and should be built upon and not destroyed.

Further, given already or soon-to-be implemented cuts to benefits elsewhere, not least in housing benefit, the impact of EMA would increase if it remained in place. Families are surely far more likely to be comfortable about a 16 to 18 year-old staying in full-time education with EMA.

As other noble Lords have said, Mr Gove says that EMA has too much “dead weight” and points to a lack of firm evidence that it makes pupils stay on. However, official government figures estimate that an extra 10 to 12 per cent of pupils stay on. Surely that is a significant number. We are talking about some 60,000 young people who would in the main be unqualified, unemployed and educational drop-outs otherwise. How can something that benefits at least 60,000 youngsters be worth doing away with? I am well aware of the counter-argument, that there are those who benefit from it who do not really need it. But it is a universal benefit like many others. It is a safety net for the less well-off and should not be done away with simply because there are some people who receive it who do not benefit from it. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, highlighted the winter fuel allowance which, like him, I have received. I frankly question its value in the grander scheme of things.

The Government seem to have reacted in some small measure to the widespread criticism of this savage cut by announcing last week an additional £180 million to help students from the poorest families continue with their education. That is to be welcomed because it is being targeted at those students most in need, including those in care and those with disabilities. Yet it means simply that the Government are cutting the resources associated with the EMA by 60 per cent rather than 90 per cent, leaving the support to enable young people to stay on at school or college still far short of the £575 million provided through EMA.

We hear that of the £180 million, £110 million is to come from what is described as a contingency fund within the DfES while the source of the remaining £70 million is not clear. It is simply entitled Treasury funds. I am sure that I would not be alone in welcoming clarification of where that additional funding will come from. I would particularly like confirmation that it will not come from other 16 to 19 budgets within the DfES. Now we learn that replacing the scheme will actually cost far more than the additional £180 million announced. Information received by the Opposition from the House of Commons Library reveals that the Government may have to find up to £130 million more to fund a promise to maintain EMA for students who started two-year college courses last autumn and who will receive weekly payments of at least £20 until the end of the next academic year. Because Mr Gove has promised to protect only those on the top rate of £30 a week—a payment that will be cut to £20—it is expected to cost around £130 million on top of the £180 million bursary fund that he announced.

As has also been mentioned, the Secretary of State can apparently anticipate a robust knock on his door from none other than his friend, London’s mayor, who is concerned about a disproportionate impact of withdrawing EMA on young people in the capital. “I don't think we have seen the end of this story”, Mr Johnson told the BBC “Question Time” audience last week. On this point, if on no other, we can only hope that the mayor is correct.

Colleges have welcomed the Secretary of State’s intention to entrust them with maximum discretion to determine how the additional resources are to be spent, as there will be freedom to use them to fund transport, food and learning materials. Following the Secretary of State’s original announcement of the ending of EMA, colleges and students expressed great concern about transport costs, which an Association of Colleges survey had identified as a key barrier to students continuing with their courses. Ninety four per cent of colleges have stated that abolishing the EMA will affect students’ ability to travel to and from college.

Since 2000, colleges and schools have been able to claim so-called entitlement funding, specifically for activities which support a broad education for young people, resources that they use to pay for tutorials, additional courses and so-called enrichment activities such as sport and the creative arts. Colleges use the entitlement funding to directly support student achievement in their chosen courses and qualifications and to help them progress into higher education or employment. The Government’s 16 to 19 funding statement announced a massive cut in entitlement funding from 114 hours to 30 hours, as well as cutting the maximum funding for each student by 10 per cent.

A number of colleges use their entitlement funding to assist students with their applications to university, particularly those groups who are less well represented in higher education. Many activities supported by enrichment funding provide students with additional information for UCAS personal statements which, as I am sure noble Lords are aware, are becoming increasingly important for acceptance into Russell group universities. Some colleges use the funding to provide additional one-to-one coaching for students to prepare them for Oxbridge interviews—the kind of support that students at private schools receive as a matter of course, with long-established outcomes. The Government should reconsider this cut, given the impact it will have on disadvantaged young people in preparing them for an enriching life of post-school education or employment.

One major benefit to flow from devolved government to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales is of course that young people in those parts of the UK will continue to receive EMA. That means that, unlike their counterparts in England, those school pupils and college students most in need will not be forced to leave education earlier than they or their parents would wish. Another factor affecting young people in education, along with those who are older, in one part of the UK differently from those in others is the so-called 16-hour rule. Officially, the rule applies across the UK. In response to a parliamentary Question which I submitted last year, Lord Freud replied:

“All Jobcentre … staff are given the same appropriate advice and guidance relating to full-time and part-time study to ensure that the rules are followed consistently”.—[Official Report, 9/12/10; col. WA 80.]

That may be the theory but it is not the practice. What is required most of all on the 16-hour rule is flexibility in the benefits system and the relaxation of its strict application. The previous Government had announced their intention to trial a relaxation of the 16-hour rule in certain areas. This Government have chosen not to do so.

Last year, Scotland’s Colleges—the equivalent of the Association of Colleges north of the border—published a report entitled Back to Work, which concluded that where the 16-hour rule is implemented strictly it acts as a clear disincentive to study and therefore to make a meaningful return to the job market. Students forced to go part time rather than full time are delaying their potential entry into the workforce. Many students want to take up a full-time college place but cannot do so because if they do they will lose their benefits. Colleges would not advise students to come off benefits just to study full time if that meant they would be worse off. As a result, they study part time and claim benefits for longer.

It is not the actual government regulations but the interpretation of full-time education that are the problem. The deciding factor appears to be whether or not a course or qualification has been designated full time or part time by the learning provider. However, there can be flexibility as shown in the way that the regulations are interpreted in Northern Ireland, but a willingness to interpret the rule more sensibly is unfortunately lacking in other parts of the UK.

The benefits system in Northern Ireland is different, although the 16-hour rule still applies there, but education opportunities have been adapted to make studying on benefits possible. A student is classed as full-time for further education purposes if they attend a minimum of 15 hours a week for seven sessions over a 30-week period. This allows the college to receive funding to provide the learning, but students can still collect benefits, as they are available for work and the course is less than 16 hours a week. Why cannot this flexibility be extended across the UK so that all can benefit from it? A blanket lifting of the rule would be preferable but, if that is deemed unacceptable by the Government, I very much hope that there might be, at the very least, selective relaxation to cover areas of high unemployment.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willis, on securing this debate. It is an extremely important time to be talking about these issues. He has a reputation from the other place and from his earlier career of being a terrier on these issues, a real champion of young people in education. It is good to see him continuing that.

I also thank all Members for their contributions, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Fink, for his maiden speech. I was very pleased to hear that his priorities as a new Member of the House are the improvement of children’s health and education. They are very fine objectives and I very much look forward to hearing his contributions to future debates.

Among Members right across the House and among teachers, parents and others working with young people up and down the country, there is a growing concern about this generation of young people, particularly those aged 16 to 25. That concern, which in some ways is unintentional, is none the less the cumulative effect of many of the cuts being brought in by the Government and they are falling hardest on that age group. We have seen dramatic cuts in youth services, in Connexions, in services to address teenage pregnancy, NEETs and so on, limitations on the school curriculum, on sports, music and enrichment activities, tuition fees and rising unemployment for young people and for their families. In this context it is even more important that as many as possible of the subset of the 16 to 25 group, the 16 to 19 year-olds, can stay in education or training as long as possible. There are in fact a range of cuts that, taken together, make it more difficult for thousands of young people and they fall disproportionately on disadvantaged young people affecting their ability to stay on. We have seen the scrapping of the September guarantee, the abolition of the diploma entitlement, the abolition of the apprenticeship guarantee, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the abolition of the EMA. I want to touch briefly on the apprenticeship guarantee before talking about the EMA, as most Members have done.

The additional funding for more apprenticeship places for young people is very welcome, but I wonder whether the Minister understands that in this regard funding is the easy bit. From my experience in government, it is much more difficult to secure high-quality places, engaging employers and matching young people to those placements. The guarantee was designed to put the onus on local agencies and the providers to ensure that the apprenticeship placements were there and to give a guarantee to a young person. I am concerned that if this guarantee is abolished as the Education Bill proposes—the previous Government did not abolish it, they introduced it; the current Government are proposing to abolish it—then, despite the funding, we will not see a substantial increase in apprenticeships.

The noble Baroness has slightly misunderstood what I said. It was the guarantee for information about apprenticeships that was dropped, not the guarantee of an apprenticeship if suitably qualified.

I thank the noble Baroness for her clarification but my point remains valid: there is a proposal to abolish the guarantee itself, which is arguably more important. What are the Government going to do to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of good placements?

Secondly, on the abolition of EMAs, despite repeated promises from the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State before the election that they would not abolish them, and despite the independent evaluation from the IFS, to which my noble friend Lord Watson referred, that EMAs increased participation and boosted grades, even if you accept the Government’s dead weight costs, which are dubious, the cost of EMAs is still outweighed by the financial gain of getting young people into training. Despite all this evidence, there was a rush, without consultation and without any alternative plan in place, to abolish them.

The bursary scheme that has now been announced after fierce public protest and the threat of legal action from students in the middle of courses is not only much reduced, with about a third of the previous level of funding, but also has a number of questions about it which I hope the Minister can clarify. First, on the guaranteed bursary of £12,000 for a tiny minority of the most vulnerable students—less than 2 per cent—the Secretary of State made much of the claim rehearsed by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that this is more than those students would have received under the EMA. It is more—it is 77p per week more. Does the Minister agree that it is only 77p more per week than those students would have received under the maximum EMA to which they would have been entitled?

Secondly, the Secretary of State also announced two other elements—a discretionary pot of the balance of £165 million for colleges to pay out, as well as transitional protection for those students already receiving EMAs to the end of the course. However, he did not make clear whether both of those elements are to be paid out of the £165 million that is left after the bursary for the vulnerable students. Can the Minister clarify this matter? Does he agree that the transitional protection for existing students at the level announced by the Secretary of State will come to about £130 million, as my noble friend said? Does that mean that there is a balance of only £35 million for the discretionary pot for colleges? They already receive £26 million, so if that is the case it is not much of an increase. If these two elements are not coming out of the discretionary pot, where is the £130 million for the transitional protection coming from and what other services have been cut to pay for it?

Thirdly, the Secretary of State claimed that the poorest students on free school meals would receive more than they do at present, with a potential under the discretionary pot scheme of £800 per annum. Does the Minister agree that with a household income of under £17,000, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, identified, to qualify for free school meals, these students would be entitled now to the maximum of £1,170 of the EMA and that therefore, under this scheme, they would face a reduction of over £300 a year?

Fourthly, does the Minister agree that many thousands of young people, whose hard-up families have an income of more than the threshold of just under £17,000 for free school meals but less than the threshold of £21,800 for the maximum EMA—let alone the £30,800 to get any EMA at all—will not be guaranteed anything under this scheme and could end up with nothing?

Finally, as the IFS pointed out, after the proposed discretionary scheme—and this is a very important point, notwithstanding the limitations that we have already identified—young people will not know from their colleges whether they qualify for any support from the discretionary pot before they decide to apply for courses. My big concern is that, unless many young people from very hard-pressed families have some certainty that they will get some financial support, they may well not take the chance and sign up for the course.

The noble Lord, Lord Willis, has made an interesting suggestion of diverting child benefit to preserve a larger budget for EMA under the scheme proposed by the Government. I think there were any number of ways, with the right commitment, that the Government could have approached this differently, with careful consideration and a real attempt to keep the main benefits of the scheme for more of those who qualify. As it is, I feel that the Secretary of State acted very rashly and irresponsibly on this, reneged on those pre-election promises and created a great deal of uncertainty and potential hardship for many hundreds of thousands of young people.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Willis of Knaresborough on securing today’s debate and setting out the issues, which he did quite clearly. I know he cares passionately about supporting young people to continue their education, a passion that everyone here today obviously shares. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Fink on his speech. He said, rather movingly, that he was taught to speak again after he had a brain tumour. We are all extremely glad that the noble Lord was taught to speak again and we hope that we hear him speak again on many occasions in your Lordships' House.

I shall try to respond to the main themes raised today. There were some specific questions which, if I may, I shall follow up if I do not respond to them all in the time that we have. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, I want to start briefly by setting some of this in a broader context.

I start with the question of why 16 to 18 education matters. It matters for the economy because to compete internationally we need a well trained and well educated workforce. It matters financially for the young people concerned because better-qualified people earn more in their working lives. But, above all, it matters educationally because, regardless of any financial benefits, education is a good in itself. It enriches lives and opens the doors of opportunity. For all these reasons, this Government, like the previous one, are committed to reaching full participation in education, training or employment for all young people up to the age of 17 by 2013 and 18 by 2015.

In difficult financial circumstances we have secured funding for 1.6 million places for 16 to 18 year-olds in education or training, which includes 230,000 apprenticeship places, for 2011-12. Total funding for 16 to 18 participation in 2011-12 is over £7.5 billion, which is a record. I recognise that there are concerns, which have been perfectly fairly spelled out by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, but overall it is important to emphasise that the commitment to full participation and the funding for 1.6 million places as well as the increase in the number of apprenticeship places—and I shall respond to the noble Baroness’s point on the guarantee—are all there. I do not pretend for one moment that this means that there will not be financial challenges for schools and sixth forms—there will be—but at a time when many other budgets are facing heavy cuts, it is a reflection of the priority we attach to 16 to 18 education.

We know we have challenges to overcome. Despite the best efforts of the previous Government, we have a wide gap in attainment between rich and poor. Half of our 16 year-olds fail to secure five decent GCSEs, including English and maths. As Professor Alison Wolf has shown in her recent report on vocational qualifications, too many of them, sadly, do not seem to be respected by employers and colleges.

I agree very much with my noble friend Lady Walmsley that it is important that we listen to employers. I also agree that some of the soft skills that she talked about—employees turning up on time, for example—are as important as some of the academic qualifications if they are going to get on in life. We also know that we have a group of 16 to 18 year-olds who are not in education, employment or training, although I am glad to say that in the last quarter the number of NEETs in that age group fell by 15,000.

What are we doing to raise standards and increase participation? We know that the biggest determinant of whether students stay on is their attainment at 16, and specifically whether they secure good GCSEs in subjects that universities and employers value. Therefore, we have introduced the pupil premium to try to tackle disadvantage from the earliest years and narrow the attainment gap. The funding for that will grow to £2.5 billion by 2014-15. We have announced a new focus on reading at age six; we have increased our emphasis on tackling under-performing schools; we have rolled out our academies programme; and we have introduced the English baccalaureate.

I take the point made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley about the disengaged. That is why we are also seeking to increase the number of studio schools, which I think can play an important part in engaging children who have not been turned on by what goes on in the classroom. By learning some practical skills—for example, how to lay a wall—they also learn about angles and measurements, so there are many benefits there too. We have announced a review of vocational qualifications and more funding for technical academies and UTCs. We have expanded the apprenticeships programme for 16 to 18 year-olds from 116,000 last year to 131,000 in 2010-11 and 133,000 next year. Given that we are dependent on employers to provide those apprenticeship places, we are not able to give a guarantee on their behalf. If employers will not make the places available, we cannot offer such a guarantee. However, I share my noble friend’s commitment to apprenticeships. I also agree with everything that she said about the importance of securing high-quality places, and we will need to work at that.

We have also switched more funding to tackle disadvantage post-16, building on the pupil premium. Therefore, within the overall budget of £7.5 billion that I mentioned, £770 million is being spent on supporting the education of disadvantaged 16 to 18 year-olds. That is £150 million more than would previously have been available to schools and colleges, and it is specifically for the education of the most disadvantaged 16 to 19 year-olds.

Perhaps I may say a few words to try to pick up the questions raised about the end of the education maintenance allowance and its replacement by the 16 to 19 bursary fund. Clearly, we want young people to stay on in education and training and not to be discouraged for financial reasons. The education maintenance allowance was used by the previous Government to provide an incentive for young people to stay on and I recognise that it led to an increase in overall participation. I do not accept the picture painted by my noble friend Lord Willis of Knaresborough and the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, about the research into the impact of the EMA. This was not research conveniently commissioned by the new Government; it was commissioned by the previous Government to be carried out by a number of different research bodies. It seems that it was found that some 10 per cent of those in receipt of the EMA said that they would not have participated without it, yet it was paid to almost 45 per cent of young people at a cost of around £560 million. It is also the case that since it was introduced—and I recognise the argument that it was an incentive payment when it was introduced—we have moved further and further towards compulsory participation post-16. Therefore, the case for an incentive payment is, I think, reduced.

Rather than paying nearly half of all students an incentive to stay in learning when it is becoming compulsory, we argue that we should concentrate our resources on removing the barriers to learning which are faced by the poorest. Therefore, last week we set out our proposals. We have consulted extensively to ensure that we support those most in need, and we are grateful for the work that Mr Simon Hughes has done in helping us to refine our proposals. In response to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Willis of Knaresborough and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, I can confirm that there is new money from reserves at the Treasury exactly as was described.

As a result of that additional funding and the funding that we have found from within the DfE budget, 12,000 students—those in care, care leavers and those receiving income support—should receive an annual bursary of £1,200 if they stay on in education. That is only slightly more, I accept, than they received under the EMA. Asylum seekers are not caught by the category of entitlement that my noble friend Lady Walmsley raised, but they would be eligible for support through the discretionary fund which schools and colleges would have at their disposal.

We want those most in need who are currently in receipt of the EMA to be protected. All those young people who began courses in 2009-10 and who were given a guarantee by the previous Government that they would receive the EMA will still receive their weekly payments. Young people who started courses in 2010-11 and received the maximum weekly payment of £30 should now receive weekly payments of at least £20 until the end of the next academic year. In addition, those students will be eligible for support from the new post-16 bursary scheme. That can help to cover the costs of travel, food and equipment, particularly for poorer students and those in rural areas where transport is an issue. One hundred and eighty million pounds will be available for that bursary fund.

Reference was made to the £800 figure in relation to those eligible for free school meals. That was intended as an illustrative figure, to demonstrate the amount of the money, rather than saying that those in receipt of free school meals would be eligible for £800.

Can I be absolutely clear? The Minister said that money has come from the Treasury reserves as well. Is the £130 for transitional protection coming from the Treasury? In other words, will the £180 million earmarked for the whole scheme be used exclusively for the two purposes of the bursary scheme and a discretionary pot?

Because the figures are complicated and time is short, I am very happy to set out the position as clearly as I can subsequently. The contribution from the Treasury is to help to cover the steady state of the scheme, and the other costs will be found from within the department, but I will clarify that for the noble Baroness.

Schools and colleges will have the freedom to decide on the allocation of the bursary because, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, they are best placed to know the specific needs of their students. We are consulting on the scheme. That will take eight weeks. I know how important it is that young people know what is happening, but it is also important that there should be a consultation.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Willis for his ambitious and imaginative proposal. It is probably career-limiting for me to respond in detail to his point, but I know that it is a discussion that he will continue to pursue in his terrier-like way.

In these difficult economic times, we are trying to prioritise the reform and investment that we need, particularly for those aged 16 to 18. We want all children to have the chance to benefit from education or training post-16. We believe that our package of measures and reforms, starting with the pupil premium, working through school, increasing the number of apprenticeships, funding post-16—which has increased—and providing a targeted package of support for 16 to 18 year-olds, will help to bring that greater participation about.

Committee adjourned at 7.59 pm.