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Lords Chamber

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 13 October 2011

House of Lords

Thursday, 13 October 2011.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.



Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Government of Burma regarding their protection of the human rights of ethnic Burmese people.

My Lords, our ambassador in Rangoon regularly raises our human rights concerns about Burma's ethnic people, most recently on 19 and 20 September, with the Ministers responsible for border affairs, agriculture and irrigation, home affairs, and labour and social welfare, and with the President's office. He urged the Government to start a genuine dialogue towards national reconciliation and to address accountability for past and current human rights abuses. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials made the same points to the Burmese ambassador in July.

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Does he agree that some recent developments deserve a cautious welcome, such as more meaningful dialogue between Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese Government; the announcement of the release of more than 6,000 prisoners, some of whom may be political prisoners; and the decision to suspend the construction of the Myitsone dam in Kachin state? However, does he also agree that serious concerns remain over military offensives against the Kachin and Shan peoples, many tens of thousands of whom have fled for their lives and are now hiding in conditions of terrible deprivation in the jungle? Will Her Majesty's Government raise with the Burmese Government concerns over these military offensives and can the Minister say what help can be given to those who have been forcibly displaced?

I agree that there have been recent developments that we should welcome. We are encouraged by the steps taken by the Burmese Government, including dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and the creating of greater space for political debate. We also welcome news of the release of 206 prisoners so far—that is the number we have a record of—and we look forward to seeing news of further releases and progress on other important issues.

As to the other concerns that the noble Baroness rightly raised, we agree that there are grounds for very serious worry over conflict in the ethnic regions, including in Shan, Kachin and Karen states. We will continue to raise these issues with the Burmese Government and press for an immediate end to hostilities and for the start of a genuine process to build long-term peace. The Department for International Development has agreed funding that will reach displaced Kachin people. UK aid is reaching people in all ethnic states, including Shan and Kachin. Most is delivered through nationwide programmes for health, education, rural livelihood and civil society. DfID also provides cross-border aid where that is the only way to reach vulnerable people, including £1.5 million a year for Burmese refugees in Thailand. As for forcibly displaced people, we are getting strong wording into the upcoming UN resolution on that matter.

Does my noble friend think that the Burmese Army’s military offensive against the Kachin armed opposition was because of their obstruction of the Myitsone dam project? Since the indefinite suspension of that project was announced last month, does he think that there is scope for the UN to respond to the appeal by the Kachin independence organisation for help in stopping the conflict and achieving national reconciliation?

Yes, I do think that there is scope. We are striving at this moment. As my noble friend knows, there is an upcoming annual resolution by the third committee which will survey the whole human rights scene in Burma. We are putting forward very strong texts to be included in that resolution to meet precisely the points that my noble friend has mentioned. As for the decision to suspend the Myitsone dam project, it is important that the Burmese Government listen to the needs and interests of their people in deciding the future of this project. We note that Aung San Suu Kyi supported the President’s decision to suspend the construction during her meeting with the Burmese minister of labour on 30 September. We welcome this further stage of dialogue and urge the Burmese Government to ensure that it continues.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his Answer to the original Question. Of course we take comfort from the fact that there have been some releases, some of them of political prisoners, but presumably the Government are aware that there have been many occasions previously when the Burmese Government have made token releases of prisoners. Can the Minister give some assurance about the confidence that can be derived from this being a rather more successful long-term process?

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. Of course this is in a sense just a beginning, an opening. There have been abuses, and a long history of political imprisonment which is totally unacceptable. We are again trying to put all these points into the strong text in the UN third committee resolution and we shall press them very hard indeed.

Does the Minister agree that the progress that Aung San Suu Kyi has made with the Government in Burma represents a great deal more than window dressing and that she should be given every encouragement to continue the dialogue that she is now engaged in? Does he also agree that the reregistration of the NLD is an essential step if Burma is going to move towards any form of democracy?

Yes, I agree with both those things. We strongly support and welcome the Aung San Suu Kyi dialogue and believe that it should be encouraged and supported at every stage.

Does the Minister agree that, notwithstanding these tentative and welcome steps, there are still 2,000 political prisoners in Burma, some who have been sentenced to 65 years in prison? Given that some 40 per cent of Burma is comprised of ethnic minorities, has he had a chance to consider the impact of the talks with Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime on those minorities, not least because of the recent reports from the Shan state by Amnesty International that troops are using innocent civilians as human shields and minesweepers and are using systematic rape, including the rape of a 14 year-old girl?

These are deeply worrying developments, and although we welcome the release of these initial prisoners, there remains a great deal to be done. The noble Lord’s comments indicate what challenges there are and where we have to seek major changes and major improvements. We are currently working to secure the toughest possible resolution at the UN General Assembly which we hope will repeat calls for Burma to release all political prisoners and to start working towards national reconciliation in a nation that is obviously deeply divided and riven by ethnic problems of all kinds. As the noble Lord knows, a famous book by Martin Smith on Burma’s ethnic problems reminded us of that long ago. There are many problems ahead.

Does the Minister agree that the very limited prisoner release announced by the regime in Burma yesterday is merely cosmetic? Is it not clear that the Government are in fact a legalised dictatorship and that they are undertaking action in an effort to get sanctions lifted, not to advance democracy in Burma? Will the Minister give an assurance that the UK will strongly oppose any relaxation of European Union sanctions, especially when there is clear evidence that, as the Minister said, the regime has increased the use of torture, rape and other unspeakable abuses against ethnic nationalities in Burma?

I can give an assurance that we will not review or dilute the sanctions yet, and indeed it is the view of Aung San Suu Kyi and others that we should not do so. The noble Baroness is absolutely right about that. I would take a slightly different tone from that which the noble Baroness uses in her comments. It is, of course, only the beginning. There is a horrific past, and horrific atrocities, to be accounted for, and people held to account for them. There are many problems ahead. However, this is a step that Aung San Suu Kyi herself recognises could lead to a more constructive dialogue with the Burmese Government. We should not do anything to discourage it at this stage, while keeping an eye open that there are many more difficult problems ahead.

Multiple Sclerosis


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to improve the United Kingdom’s international standing in relation to patient access to new treatments for multiple sclerosis.

My Lords, a number of treatments for multiple sclerosis are available to UK patients, supported by the multiple sclerosis risk sharing scheme, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance and Scottish Medicines Consortium advice. Our priority is to ensure that patients have access to new and effective treatments. NICE’s forthcoming review of its clinical guideline on MS will bring together up-to-date advice on the best treatments for patients, as part of the overall package of care.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl the Minister for that reply. It is true that the prognosis for many patients with multiple sclerosis has been transformed by the use of these immunosuppressive agents since interferons were introduced. Is he aware that recently a new and effective remedy called fingolimod, which is available by oral administration instead of injection, has been introduced? It has been licensed but has been rejected by NICE for the moment purely on cost grounds. At the moment, evidence suggests that about 60 per cent of patients with this condition in the United States, 30 per cent in most of Europe and only 17 per cent in the UK are receiving this type of medication. Is it therefore not likely that this is the result of restraints on prescribing largely on financial grounds?

The noble Lord is quite right about fingolimod. Since the publication of NICE’s draft guidance, the manufacturer has proposed a patient access scheme for the drug, and the department has agreed that this can be considered as part of NICE’s appraisal. The noble Lord raises a very interesting point about cost. Professor Mike Richards’s report, which came out last year and looked at the extent and causes of international variations in drug usage, outlined a number of potential explanations for the relatively low uptake of some treatments. In the case of MS, one of the reasons identified was caution among some neurologists about the benefits of particular treatments, but also tighter clinical guidelines on the use of MS treatments in the UK compared with some other countries. It is important to stress that in treating MS, medicines form only part of an overall package of care, which of course can consist of access to neurology services and specialist MS nurses.

My Lords, referring to what the noble Earl just said about the Richards report, that report ranked the UK 23rd out of 25 EU countries, with only Slovenia and Lithuania more restrictive on access to new treatments than the UK. The NICE guidelines will not be revised until 2014, having last been done in 2003. For sufferers of MS, a horrible disease, that seems a very long time to wait. I hope that in the reviews that are taking place, the Government will do everything possible to accelerate this work and ensure that NICE gets on with it, and that the Government give priority to MS research in future.

My Lords, I take the noble Lord’s point. NICE is reviewing its clinical guideline. That is not due to be published until 2014. Although we strive to ensure that there is national guidance on the most commonly used medicines and treatments, there will always be instances where decisions have to be made locally. Under the NHS constitution, patients have the right to expect local decisions about the funding of medicines and treatments to be made rationally, following proper consideration of the evidence. We are emphasising to PCTs that they should do just that.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have a daughter who has had MS for 30 years. Recent research announced in Russia indicated that they believe they are developing an answer to rebuilding the myelin sheath, which would be great progress in multiple sclerosis treatment. Can the Minister assure us that when that research is available we will follow it here and introduce it at the earliest possible time?

My Lords, new and innovative treatments for MS are being developed in a number of countries. It is quite clear that any new treatment of this kind should be subject to the rigours of the regulatory system before it is made available to NHS patients. Many of them will not have been fully tested to ensure efficacy and safety, but we will of course examine every novel and innovative treatment that has the potential to benefit patients.

The Minister will be aware that the move from the large-scale commissioning of health services to smaller-scale commissioning carries a danger for those who will be deemed on the smaller scale not to have sufficient critical mass numbers to command attention. What do the Government intend to do to ensure that conditions such as MS and other chronic conditions are not endangered by that move to small-scale commissioning?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. Commissioning by clinical commissioning groups does not mean that individual groups will have to commission every service. They can commission collaboratively across larger populations if that makes sense for them. Additionally, some services for less common conditions, including some neurological conditions, fall within the scope of specialised commissions and will be commissioned subject to the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill by the NHS Commissioning Board.

I understand that in Europe the neurological commissioning support, which was developed with the support of a number of neurological charities, including the MS Society, has been well received by commissioners and is doing very good work.

International Year for People of African Descent


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to mark the International Year for People of African Descent.

My Lords, the Government have no specific plans to mark the United Nations International Year for People of African Descent. However, we strongly support its aims to combat racial discrimination, xenophobia and racial intolerance. The Government remain fully committed to tackling all forms of racism, both domestically and internationally. A recent examination by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination highlighted the solid progress we continue to make on fighting racism.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Since 1959, the UN has designated 53 international years in order to draw attention to major issues and to encourage international action to address concerns which have global importance and ramifications. Will the Minister say how many of those years have been ignored in the UK?

The UN declaration said that the international year must become a milestone in the ongoing campaign to advance the rights of people of African descent. It deserves to be accompanied by activities that fire the imagination, enhance our understanding of the situation of people of African descent and act as a catalyst for real and positive change in their daily lives. One of the complaints of the disaffected youth in this country is the claim that there is a lack of respect afforded to them. The Government’s desire for community cohesion could have been greatly enhanced if they at least paid some attention to the year. Is this the way in which the ethnic minorities, especially those of African descent, can expect the Government to deal with the years that are dedicated specially to their service?

My Lords, there is a great deal of wisdom in much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Howells, has said. However, it is not right to say that the Government have ignored these matters. On the contrary, there has been massive, continuous and growing commitment to these issues. The only matter here is whether it is a practice in this country to recognise all the various UN days marking many issues over the years. That is not our practice, although we fully recognise all the aims behind these things and work at the United Nations to further the activities of the UN in all these fields. I would not for a moment dispute the analysis or the line of thinking that is in the noble Baroness’s question, but merely not marking these days in this country is not in any way connected to a lack of very strong commitment to all these causes.

My Lords, as your Lordships will know, the NHS benefited enormously from a great number of people of African heritage, particularly in the early days. Would it not be a good idea to use this occasion to celebrate this in some way and partly thereby contribute to improving the morale in the NHS?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the contribution and the value. He urges celebration, which should be in all our words, aims and activities, but whether a specific day is necessary as well I am not so sure. However, I make absolutely clear that we recognise everything that he said as being extremely valid.

My Lords, October is black history month, which reminds us of the many Afro-Caribbean war veterans who fought for king and country and happily stayed on to help rebuild Britain after the war. British adverts in the Caribbean, which implied that the streets here were paved with gold, encouraged people to come and do the same. Faced with terrible racism and rejection, those people established the Notting Hill carnival to celebrate their culture. It is now the largest carnival in Europe and brings in vast tourism revenue, but I believe that the carnival is now endangered. Can the Government assure the House that they will support and encourage, and try to find ways to celebrate, the contribution of Afro-Caribbean people to this country, giving hope to black youngsters who often feel excluded from our history?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, my noble friend is right that the past has not been perfect. We should constantly see ways of re-emphasising out gratitude and the value that the various communities contribute. As to the Notting Hill carnival, I must confess that I had a lot of things covered in my brief today, but the Notting Hill carnival was not one of them. Personally, I have always thought that it was a terrific show. The carnival went wrong once or twice, but over the years there has been considerable improvement in the way that it is managed and organised. Frankly, my personal view is: long may it last, continue and flourish.

My Lords, given our colonial history and the distinct contribution that people of African descent have made to our country, is this not an opportunity in educational terms to develop the policy that you have articulated to enable role models to be clearly exemplified, perhaps in the production of DVDs or literature, to nurture in our schools a respect for those who have come here and are part of our story?

I say to the right reverend Prelate that, yes, that is an utterly admirable aim and one we should certainly strive to fulfil.

My Lords, is it not rather sad that, on the previous occasion when international recognition was given to the situation of people of African descent, it was in connection with the abolition of slavery, where people of African descent appeared to be the passive victims of an historic process? Does not my noble friend’s excellent Question suggest a more positive way of looking at the role of black people in history?

Yes, and I am happy to report that slavery is covered in my brief this morning. To make it absolutely clear, because there should not be any doubt this, we deplore the human suffering caused by slavery and the slave trade and its consequences for many communities around the world. More than deploring it, our focus should be, and is, on working to address the historical legacy of the slave trade and educating future generations on the evils of slavery. I agree with the noble Lord that all opportunities should be taken to bring that message home very strongly indeed.

War Memorial Gardens


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will introduce legislation concerning the use of war memorial gardens for entertainment purposes.

My Lords, the Government have no plans to introduce legislation concerning the use of war memorial gardens for entertainment purposes. It is for local authorities to take decisions on such matters where they own the land. In doing so, we would expect them to take into account the sensitivities of the local communities involved.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. This Question arises from an application for two months of corporate events in Trinity Square Gardens, a memorial in the City to the many hundreds of thousands of merchant seamen who lost their lives in the major wars. As noble Lords will know, this has generated widespread disgust. I congratulate the mayor and Tower Hamlets Council on rejecting this application in the past 24 hours, but can the Minister offer an opinion on whether it is appropriate that those who caused the financial crisis, often got bailed out by the taxpayer and are still awarding themselves mouth-watering bonuses should ever be allowed to dance around memorials like this?

My Lords, first, I should remind the House of my interest as I am still a serving officer in the Territorial Army. This is a Question about war memorials, not regulation of the City. But what I would say is that, when opposing the proposed event at Trinity Square Gardens, the Deputy Master of Trinity House, Rear Admiral Sir Jeremy de Halpert, wrote this:

“It is the tranquillity and character of the entire garden that delivers the respect and atmosphere for quiet contemplation and reflective memory of loved ones and comrades. There are only a few places which mark the selfless sacrifice of so many in the cause of the freedom we now enjoy”.

Few could have expressed our sentiments better.

My Lords, I am a trustee of the War Memorials Trust and of course I deplore any inappropriate use of gardens and war memorials. At the same time, I am sure that it is not a matter that should be the subject of legislation. It is one for the custodians of the individual memorials, for local authorities and so on. That, after all, has brought the right decision in this case.

My Lords, I agree entirely with the sentiments of my noble friend. It is important to understand that nothing has gone wrong here. An event was proposed, it was considered and, quite rightly, it was determined that it was inappropriate.

My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Merchant Navy Association and president of the Merchant Navy Medal. At the annual service for seafarers at St Paul’s yesterday, a large number of Merchant Navy and former Merchant Navy personnel spoke to me. I think that we have come to exactly the right conclusion about this affair.

Do the Government have any plans to celebrate appropriately the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic in which 25 per cent of the Merchant Navy sailors involved were killed, an unbelievably high percentage, and something that I fear is often forgotten by the nation?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord’s question about the 70th anniversary, but I will write to him. I have an interest to declare in that for five years after the end of the war, my father served in the deep sea Merchant Navy. Even then, he still had plenty of exciting stories to tell.

My Lords, would it be possible to encourage a national programme in which schools adopt their local war memorial, thereby making youngsters more aware of our history and of the sacrifices made, as well as helping with maintenance?

My Lords, that is a very good idea. I am sure that schools can do so if they wish to. One of the gratifying things that I see on battlefield tours in Europe is coach loads of British schoolchildren doing what they should do and learning from the mistakes we have made in the past.

My Lords, does the admirable self-denying ordinance of my noble friend the Minister in terms of yet more legislation represent a turning point? Might it be a model for the future?

My Lords, as a good Conservative, I recommend legislation and regulation only when absolutely necessary.

My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to agree with me that the War Memorials Trust and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission do the most magnificent job for the people who fell in the world wars, those who lament the loss of their loved ones and also for us? It reminds us of the evils of war but makes us proud that we continue to look after the graves and war memorials.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that thanks to the late Fred Cleary there are approaching 250 gardens within the City of London? I acknowledge that some of them are in horse troughs and window boxes but there are a large number of alternative gardens which could be used for the purpose of the original application.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement of Recess Dates

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say a word about recess dates for the coming year. As ever, a note of all the dates that I am about to announce is available in the Printed Paper Office. I understand that my right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons is now making a Statement on the same subject to another place.

First, there will be a long weekend in November to break up the autumn, given that there will not be a prorogation this autumn. We will therefore rise at the end of business on Wednesday 16 November and return on Monday 21 November.

I have already announced the dates for the Christmas Recess this year. We will rise at close of business on 21 December and return on 10 January. Subject to the progress of business, and at this stage provisionally, the House will adjourn for a week in February from the end of business on 16 February and return on Monday 27 February. We will rise for Holy Week and Easter from the end of business on 28 March and return on Monday 16 April.

The recess that is variously known as Whit and Spring is very special next year. The Whitsun Recess will be combined with the public holidays to mark Her Majesty the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. We will rise at the end of Wednesday 30 May and return on Monday 11 June.

Next summer may seem a long way off, but may I also announce those holiday dates too? We will rise at the end of business on Wednesday 25 July and return on 8 October, the week of the Conservative Party conference. At present, I propose that this House should not sit in September 2012. As is always the case on these occasions, I must stress that these dates are subject to the progress of business and I shall need to keep under review the feasibility of the February Recess, but I hope to keep to these dates. The practice of announcing recess dates in advance, which I believe is a convenience to all Members and also to the staff of the House, can work only when we make reasonable progress with business.

Business of the House

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the debates on the motions in the names of Lord Rooker and Lord Giddens set down for today shall each be limited to 2½ hours.

Motion agreed.

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

Moved By

That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill has been committed that they consider the bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clauses 3 to 7, Schedule 2, Clauses 8 to 15, Schedule 3, Clauses 16 to 18, Schedule 4, Clauses 19 to 24, Schedule 5, Clause 25, Schedule 6, Clauses 26 to 29, Schedules 7 and 8, Clauses 30 and 31.

Motion agreed.



Moved By

To call attention to the Government’s consultation paper on proposed changes to the planning system; and to move for papers.

My Lords, in contemplating the consultation document on planning reform published by the Government, I start by saying that in principle, and in general, I am actually with the Government on this issue, although I may differ on a few points—the two most important being brownfield and on how local the decision-making should be. I am pro-development and if I do not always use the prefix “sustainable”, you must add it in. To me, it means the water, the transport, the density, the schools, jobs and GPs; for housing, it means mixing the tenures and affordability. In fact, it is about what has been discussed in the Localism Bill—sustainable communities and how to plan for them.

Ministers have had a torrid time from their friends at the Daily Telegraph, the owners of which are not really entitled to a view on this issue from their offshore island. There has been much misleading hype from the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England. I do not think they believe everything they put out. As Planning Minister, I had disagreements with them, but they did not feel they had to resort to hype on the current scale. We have to realise that it is a draft policy framework and we do not always need to blame the communications—sometimes we need to look again at the message. In this respect, I have some helpful advice for Ministers. Cut out the petty party points and do not insult those who oppose you. Above all, do not ignore what has been done before by other political parties.

When I was at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in 2002-05, with the then Deputy Prime Minister, we set about delivering a genuine policy for growth which was controlled and sustainable. The principles were set out in the February 2003 communities plan. We were, as we said at the time, able to build on previous work by John Gummer—now the noble Lord, Lord Deben, in this House—who had the courage to rework the policy regarding out-of-town retail developments in order to encourage city centre growth and prevent sprawl; and on that of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, who had created the Thames Gateway. Both were visionaries, and we said so at the time as we promoted our communities plan. The Minister could well take a look at the ideas, content and explanations in the plan published by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott. It is not perfect but they can learn from it. Indeed, I suspect that many of the same civil servants who worked on that plan are still around working for the Minister.

The policy is about England. So, let us get the facts. Over 90 per cent of the land of England is not built on. National parks account for 9 per cent; designated areas of outstanding natural beauty account for 15 per cent; the green belt accounts for 13 per cent; urban developments—the roads and everything—are 9 per cent. That is a total of 46 per cent. From memory, when I was at the relevant department, the land that was thought needed for development—housing and other infrastructure—was about 1 per cent. So, what on earth is the problem? That is all we are talking about in terms of the scope of the land of England for proper development. The last Government managed to leave behind more green belt than they inherited, two new national parks and sustainable development—even though I do not think there was enough of it.

The draft planning policy nowhere near seeks to destroy our countryside, areas of outstanding natural beauty, the green belt or our vast open countryside. Those are the facts—it cannot do that given the amount of land that is required. We need to get real on this matter. I accept that we have to be very careful in the use of land. There was a time in the south-east—the region most deprived of brownfield sites; I will come back to that—when dwellings were averaging only 22 per hectare on greenfield sites. That led to a density directive stipulating a minimum of 30 dwellings per hectare, although I think that that is too low in any event. There are countless examples, set out in publications, of very high-quality housing in this country at much higher densities, indeed more than double that rate. This should not lead to room sizes so small that living space is compromised and specially made small furniture needs to fitted in the show houses as a disguise.

The green belt, which is what a lot of the debate is wrongly about, is what I sometimes used to call—I know people got annoyed about it—rubbish land. It is the collar around the urban areas to prevent sprawl. That is what it actually is. The urban fringe is not nice in most areas. By definition it is touching up on the urban areas. I know farmers who suffer on the urban fringe from the dumping of rubbish, even supermarket trolleys, in fields about to be machine-harvested.

In the communities plan we took the view that to obtain sustainable growth it is sometimes necessary to have the odd incursion into the green belt, but with a commitment to designate more than was taken. That can easily be done now. You might, for example, need a new bridge over a river or a railway line to get access to land for development that would not otherwise be available. It builds on what is already there in communities—it is not necessarily greenfield, open-span development; it is adding to towns and cities.

In fact, we had a specific plan, which I do not see anywhere in this policy, for greening the sustainable development. It was quite separate. I was reminded of it earlier this week when I got an invitation to celebrate the first 20 years of the Forest of Marston Vale in December. That was a project high on our greening list of areas to green as we were also intensively developing them.

City centres need to be vibrant places for people to live, work and play. We do not want any closed-off areas and no-go areas at weekends and in the evenings. But you need planning and management to achieve that. You also need to restrict out-of-town greenfield growth, and, in my view, you need to do it for both retail and offices. It needs a very positive approach to maintain our city centre areas. I recall on one occasion—I have never visited the site—when an Ikea was built on top of its car park rather than waste the land alongside for the car park. It did not happen by accident, and it was not the first choice, but it was a solution that prevented taking too much land.

Much of the debate has been about rural areas and I suspect that we will get some of that this morning. I do not see rural areas like the lid of a chocolate box. That is not to say that I want to concrete over them, far from it; but I do not have that romantic view. These areas are where millions of our fellow citizens live. There is a lot of hidden deprivation in rural areas with job losses, poor transport and everything else.

Small towns and villages die and become residential dormitories if they are not replenished by encouraging the reuse of old buildings and allowing new activities to replace older ones. We should not have to wonder why the shops, the banks, the schools, even the pubs go. You lose what you do not use. Young people are forced away to start a life and a family in the big cities and therefore these places die. You lose the children, you lose the school. It’s not rocket science.

This does not mean that villages need to be swamped by massive new additions. They sometimes need no more than a handful of new homes for local people, maybe just by infilling the boundaries of the small villages and towns. I recall going to see the leaders of one area to push for growth—it was in Buckinghamshire but I will not mention the town; it certainly was not my political area, I went there as the Minister. I had to sell them growth. To my surprise they had embraced the planned growth because towns to the south of them in the M4 corridor were taking off in growth and their town was dying.

We pumped capital into the town to pump prime and developers did the rest at the outer edges of the town. The town grew considerably. This plan in turn was used by the leaders—which was a surprise to me, and I used it elsewhere. They said, “We’ll grow our town because if we have a plan for growth we can oppose the developments in 100 villages in our county that are way beyond what is needed. We can go to planning appeals and say that the growth is there in our county because we are deliberately growing our towns. We can stop the pepperpotting among the villages”. I thought that that was a very positive approach to development because it meant more sustainable growth and a lot less commuting.

One of my central points—and I do not think that it is in the policy; there is too much hope in the policy—is that growth has to be driven. I do not think that the issues will be addressed by the locality. Sustainability will not come from local decision-making. Nobody at that level sees the big picture when you are planning growth—and you have to plan, otherwise the infrastructure does not appear. That is one of the key issues. Large new housing without infrastructure is bad. We have done it in the past and we know where the failures are. Has anybody ever wondered why parish councils do not do planning? It is self-evident. The answer is there. So do not force the local decision-making so low that you get a complete log jam. You have to have discussion, co-operation, partnership and sensitivity. That is crucial in a modern democracy. We are not like France, which has a different planning system; the Government decide what they are doing and it gets done. Nothing will happen if the decision-making is too close to the developments. That is an area where some work has to be done on the policy.

I shall deal just briefly with agricultural land. Ministers could again learn from the past; they would do very well to dig out in Defra a web-based report on barriers to diversification by farmers. The key barriers were identified as planning and business education. So we need a presumption in my view on the reuse of redundant buildings in the countryside, with a limit—maybe double the floor area—to allow new developments for jobs and enterprise. It is no good planners saying, “Use the old building as it is, or not”, because the “not” will win out and you will get no development and you will get dereliction. The level of planner interference sometimes knows no bounds. A farm with holiday cottages and physical activities for city folk, such as climbing frames and skateboarding down hills, fell foul of planners because of the roof shape of the shed used for storage. It was at the bottom of a slope 30 feet below the road, where it could not be seen because of the hedge. The farmer put a sloping roof on a 10x10 shed, and the planner said, “Oi, you’ve got to get that off—I want a pitched roof!”. It is ridiculous the way that planners interfere with their personal views at this level.

One final area that I raise on the countryside is on the permanent show grounds around the country. They are used for shows other than agricultural shows, but they have an inbuilt infrastructure and, in my view, there should be a presumption for building indoor recreation and sports activities as a norm on such sites. Sometimes they are alongside a golf course, so why should you not have indoor sports facilities on some of these grounds? They have the infrastructure; it helps to make them viable and sustainable, because the infrastructure already exists.

Finally, I turn to the subject of brownfield, which is referred to in detail in the impact assessment. There must be a policy that encourages brownfield on previously developed land. I agree that the policy for housing targets on brownfield, first established in 1995 and carried on till the present day, is too rigid. It does not fit all the circumstances in the country. I was once a factory manager in Surrey, and there ain’t a lot of brownfield land in Surrey born out of our industrial revolution there. Ten years ago, the National Land Use Database identified 66,000 hectares of brownfield capable of redevelopment. Remediation was at about 1,000 hectares a year. I simply do not see how that can have dried up, as has been claimed, given the amount of land that was there 10 years ago. Of course, greenfield is cheaper, but brownfield is virtually always more sustainable given its location. We know that there are developers who have made a real business out of developing brownfield, and with affordable housing, including the Berkeley Group and Urban Splash, which are leaders and innovators regarding redundant buildings such as waterworks, offices and factories for new homes. As an aside, I do not think that ex-factories and ex-offices should have to have planning permission to be converted to housing. By definition they were occupied by hundreds or thousands of people in the past; the road infrastructure and everything is always there. It is a bit different for sewer works and waterworks, and things like that, but I think that people should be able to get on and do it. Brindleyplace in Birmingham was built without planning permission, right in the centre, with offices, shops and everything, because it was that kind of zone, which was designated. So it can be done.

The Minister has to find a middle way between the two extremes. The final policy has to include encouraging the use of brownfield. It will remove a major plank from the sometimes misleading opposition to the draft policy. It is a draft—and what draft cannot be improved? But the central thrust should remain a presumption in favour of sustainable development. It is not a plan to concrete over our manmade countryside or destroy the quality designated areas. Those who claim this are plain wrong, in my view.

I encourage the Minister to look again at the work of the three noble Lords in the past. Things go off the boil as Ministers change and civil servants come and go. Things need driving, and I discovered that as one of the issues relating to this area of policy. If you do not drive it forward from the centre—it is not all top-down—it goes off the boil locally, and then you are at the behest of the personal views of planning inspectors and planners, who have caused us major problems in stopping sustainable development in this country.

We do not need to start again. Use the work of others. Find a way to explain and communicate. The principle of planned growth is right, and I applaud the fact that the Government have continued to do this. But they have got to change some aspects of the policy level, and use some good ideas from previous Tory and Labour Administrations. There were some good ideas, so you do not have to start again with a clean sheet of paper. I beg to move.

My Lords, there are a great many planning experts in this House, many of whom demonstrated their great skills and experience during proceedings on the Localism Bill over many days. Many of its amendments and debates focus on areas that are closely related to the current consultation on the national policy planning framework. We have heard an impassioned speech from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who invited the Minister to choose the middle ground between two extremes. My view would be exactly the same. While I agree with some of his detailed points on conversion of buildings in rural areas and so forth, I have one principal point to make today, which is one of balance.

I certainly welcome the Government’s focus on streamlining planning regulations. The current morass of regulations is certainly overcomplex. When there is overcomplexity in government policy, it leads to that policy perhaps not being given the degree of respect that it requires. The Government should therefore be commended in attempting to make sense out of the situation, to make the system more comprehensible, and thus better respected by those it affects.

It is certainly also true that the current system is unduly cumbersome, particularly with regard to the delivery of major infrastructure projects. There are many to look at, but one has only to look at the length of the planning inquiry into terminal 5 to realise that there is too great a gap for companies and the Government to be able to plan major infrastructure developments in this country. It just takes too long.

However, like many others, I am concerned about the nature of some of the proposals set out in the consultation document that we are considering. In my judgment, the way in which the document is phrased is very one-sided. It states one objective, which is promoting development. I cannot recall seeing a statement of government policy addressing sensitive and complex issues which takes such—one might say “definitive”—an approach.

Throughout the document, from the very beginning, the Government set out their stall with admirable clarity. Paragraph 9 states boldly:

“The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development”.

I am not at all sure that this is the case; or, at least, not without qualification and the exclusion of other priorities. For someone who is very definitely not one of the planning experts that I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, it could be argued that the purpose of the planning system is quite the opposite; that is, to act as a check and balance against an unrestrained charge for development. The authors of the document take comfort behind the term “sustainable” to qualify development. I was interested in the debate that took place yesterday, and would certainly agree that the term has been so overused as to lose any meaningful impact, as we have heard in recent debates. What is “sustainable development”? Today’s definition of “sustainable” may well not be tomorrow’s.

I was struck by the force of the Government's determination to support one side of this debate, particularly with regard to housing. The consultation paper is packed with strong statements to remind the reader of the Government’s one-dimensional view. Paragraph 14 states:

“At the heart of the planning system is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking. Local planning authorities should plan positively for new development, and approve all individual proposals wherever possible”.

That strikes me as an exceptionally bold statement, which could have been drafted in the dreams of those who might seek to benefit from the conversion of muddy fields into sparkling new dormitory towns. I urge the Government to think carefully about the balance between development—a great deal of development could be sustainable and very welcome—and conservation, the requirements of the rural economy, the preservation of open spaces, the importance of farming and biodiversity, principles which have led and guided the planning process for so long.

In paragraph 28 the document directs that local planning authorities should plan for the scale of housing supply necessary to meet demand. I question whether that is not a naive aspiration. The demand for housing is not quite infinite but it is certainly very large indeed. In my submission, an attempt to satisfy this demand would lead to housebuilding on an unprecedented scale, which would fundamentally alter the fabric of the country. I certainly understand the motivation behind this policy. We want to arrive at a balanced state of affairs whereby planning does not act as an unreasonable check and hindrance to development and boosts the economic capability of this country, for example, through industry. The Government are looking for any means of unlocking growth. However, I suggest that to put the emphasis so much on the need for development, as the consultation does, and attempting to promote development wherever possible is not going to achieve that. I am also interested to know where the funding is going to come from for all this proposed new housing stock. Debt financing is, of course, the answer. I wonder whether there is a need for a new mountain of borrowing.

If a country with extensive tropical rainforest assets had put forward a planning document suggesting that logging should take priority over all other considerations wherever possible, I suggest that environmentalists, and perhaps policy-makers in the developed world, would be up in arms about that. I think that there is a comparison to be drawn with what is proposed in this document. No doubt I will get “roughed up” by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, but in fact I agree with a lot of what he said about the need for balanced, sensible and well considered development. However, whatever we say at this stage, there is the law of unintended consequences. If this becomes the policy framework, those who are keen to sponsor large-scale housing development in large and, in my view, unsustainable dormitory-type schemes will have those schemes approved over and over again. I urge my noble friend to take account of the voices raised to counterbalance the gung-ho attitude of the Government.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rooker for introducing this debate and for enabling us to make representations direct to the Minister without having to fill in a consultation form.

It is not surprising that the draft national policy framework has caused controversy. Planning decisions necessarily involve balancing competing objectives—policy and politics, legal issues, public and private interests and above all the making of choices which can directly affect villages, towns, cities, the countryside and those who live in them.

Such decisions are often controversial. They frequently attract passionate opposition, from professional and lay or local opinion, quite apart from organisations representing sectional interests. They are sometimes regarded as unfair or just plain wrong. In a relatively small country with finite land resources, the third highest population density in the world and the population rising fast, it could scarcely be otherwise.

Those who approach the subject, therefore, should do so carefully and in a consensual mood; not as some have done recently in an intemperate manner because that only creates antagonism and leads to the conclusion that the only thing wrong with the planning system is the people who operate it. I am not complacent, but there is no substantial body of evidence to substantiate the claim that the planning system is broken, or that it can legitimately be made a scapegoat for a lack of economic growth.

For example, in my own local area there is at least one extant permission for a large housing development in suspense; not because of problems in the planning system, but because of the financial problems of the developer. I am quite sure that this is replicated by many other examples across the country and the statistics seem to indicate that. I am not opposed in principle to the framework. I want to make it better, but today I wish to draw attention to three issues that I fear will give rise to potential legal difficulties. I must declare an interest as one who, for many happy years, used to practise in this area.

First is the framework itself. Any reduction of policy guidance from 1,300 pages of statements, guidance and correspondence down to 52 pages comes with a risk of challenge by way of judicial review. I say that because simplicity of language does not necessarily make things simple. Sometimes it is quite the opposite because quarrels over interpretation and nuance inevitably lead to delay at the very time that the human resource in each local planning authority required to give effect to this policy is at a low ebb, with cutbacks making things worse.

Policy guidance is, of course, a matter for the Secretary of State. It is a material consideration in deciding planning applications. However, like all material considerations, it is also a matter for the courts to construe if invited to do so. Of course, the weight to be placed upon each material consideration is for the decision-maker, but it is not possible to avoid the courts construing whether or not something is a material consideration.

In several respects, the framework lacks clarity. I am rather on my own here, but I very much regret the cancellation of a number of the planning policy statements, some of which were published recently, and in practice I found them exceedingly helpful. I do not believe that short, summarising sentences will adequately replace the detail contained in, say, planning policy statement 5, dealing with the historic environment and the setting of listed buildings. There are others, too. I am not saying that there is no room for cutting out repetition and out-of-date material, but much of the recent guidance has been extremely useful and I will be sorry to see it go.

In future, practitioners will refer back to the cancelled statements and track the wording. Where the wording of the new framework is unclear or open to more than one interpretation, battle and consequent delay will commence; leading, if the stakes are high, either to more and more planning appeals or more and more litigation by way of judicial review. So I believe the framework should be rescrutinised and, where necessary, added to or provided with supplementary guidance.

My second point relates to the term sustainability and the presumption in favour of sustainable development. It cannot be the Government’s intention to leave a policy vacuum while developers leap to take advantage, but I fear that it might happen. The concept of sustainability has been around since at least 1994 with the parliamentary Command Paper Sustainable Development: The UK Strategy and has given rise to considerable debate. The framework does not contain a full definition in the glossary of terms and it should. I believe that the current definition is inadequate because it contains insufficient environmental balance and concentrates on the short term.

The Government, of course, argue that if you read the document as a whole, the balance is there, but the tone is otherwise. It is almost as though one can hear the dog whistle from the Treasury. Some have said that there has been sufficient controversy—I believe this—about the current attempt at definition to make one believe that it is absolutely necessary for the draftsmen to go back to the drawing board.

Paragraph 14 of the statement raises concern because it requires planning approval to be granted in accordance with the framework “without delay” and,

“where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date”,

and applies,

“unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policy objectives in the National Planning Policy Framework taken as a whole”.

There is a presumption in favour of sustainable development. That needs clarification in the context of other material considerations and statutory obligations imposing duties on the Secretary of State and the local planning authority which may be inconsistent with the new presumption, quite apart from the separate obligations to produce environmental impact assessments and to comply with European directives.

To a lawyer, presumptions and statutory duties, and each and all of the phrases that I have mentioned, carry with them issues of interpretation and require greater clarity and guidance to avoid litigation. For example, what is “indeterminate” or “out of date”? What is “significantly and demonstrably”, which is a new planning concept?

On the text itself, where is the presumption in favour of using brownfield land before greenfield land so that developers are prevented from seeking cheaper land in the interests of growth? Why have office developments and cultural activities disappeared from the sequential test in the section on town centres? What will be the implications of that and where does one find a long-term strategic view for the future? How can it be right when almost all major developments involve significant traffic issues? Should it be said that there should be no refusal unless the impact is severe?

Thirdly, I turn to the development plan, which I link to the presumption. Since 1947—strengthened in 1990—it has been the position that planning permission should be granted for development which is in accordance with the plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. The plan itself has undergone serial major changes which continue under the Localism Bill. This is not the first time that the development plan has been subject to complaints of being responsible for delay and harming the economic well-being of the country. It has been a recurrent theme over the past 30 years, as has the desire to involve the public in the planning system.

Currently, however a large number of local planning authorities are consulting the public on core strategy draft documents, which constitute part one of the new local plan. In my own area, consultation lasts until 2 December this year. To maintain confidence, public involvement is of critical importance. It is, therefore, extremely alarming to see the draft statement refer to a default position whereby, in the absence of a plan or where relevant policies are said to be out of date, the presumption will be in favour of development. That cannot possibly be the right way to go because, although plans are in the process of formulation, they should be allowed to continue to a conclusion and there should be no framework presumption until that has happened. To do otherwise will undermine public confidence in the plan-making process. In any event, the plan must conform to the policy framework. As a result, further time and delay will be taken up in achieving this and, of course, no community order can come into play until it conforms to a local plan and hence the framework. In this respect localism will be in suspense.

Although I understand the natural desire to encourage economic growth and speed up the planning process, I do not believe that any action should be taken that brings the risk of increased litigation or an increase in the number of planning appeals, which is the very opposite of the coalition’s intention. So much more work is needed and it almost makes me want to go back into practice.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I am a member of a local planning authority and the local development control committee in Colne, which is the Colne and District Committee. Perhaps I should think about retiring.

I sometimes complain that your Lordships’ House does not spend enough time talking about important nitty-gritty things I am interested in, such as planning, but at the moment we are discussing that almost every day. We were discussing it yesterday in the Localism Bill, we will discuss it again on Monday in further debate on that Bill and here we are again today. Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for.

My initial reaction when I read this draft national planning policy framework was that a lot of the language is wrong. It does not fit neatly into a planning framework; it is written more like a manifesto and there is quite a lot of sloppy wording. Sloppy wording is something that must be avoided here; otherwise it is a recipe, as the noble Lord, Lord Hart, said, for lots of appeals, judicial review and lots of money for rich lawyers. My second thought was that a lot of it is internally inconsistent and it needs sorting out. Whatever message the Government want to give in this document, it has to be consistent. My third problem is what it misses out and that is inevitable when all the PPSs are being condensed into a shorter document. I hope that the Government will not get hung up on 50 pages, but if they do, I would say that it needs increasing a bit and perhaps they will have to use a smaller typeface. Nevertheless, I understand the purpose of the document. My final concern is: what does it really mean? This leads us on to the meaning of “sustainable development”.

Last night, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out that the Government are often in a state of confusion between the meaning of the word “development” and the phrase “sustainable development”. They are not the same thing, but they seem to be being used interchangeably. The absolute minimum, from our point of view, is that a definition of “sustainable development”—an explanation, if they do not want a definition in this document—must recognise that it consists of three pillars: economic, social and environmental. That is absolutely fundamental. Planning decisions and planning policy-making have to involve a balance between those. A reading of this document suggests that the balance is not there. If the Government wish to set a great premium on growth—and I understand why they may—it must be within the context of those three pillars and the balance between them. In particular, it must be set within clear environmental limits.

The noble Lord, Lord Hart, has already referred to paragraph 14, which has caused a lot of the problems. It reads:

“At the heart of the planning system is a presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

That is fine.

“Local planning authorities should plan positively for new development”.

That is fine, but then it says,

“and approve all individual proposals wherever possible”.

At the very best that is such sloppy wording that it cannot be allowed to remain. All things are possible. Then it says,

“approve development proposals that accord with statutory plans without delay”.

Again, it is sloppy wording. Of course there should be no inefficiency, no unnecessary delay, but as a member of a planning committee for very many years and the former chairman of one, I know that planning applications very often require negotiation, discussion and attempts to reach consensus. Simply because a proposal, whether it is small, medium-sized or big, is in accord with the plan does not mean that there are not lots of details that require sorting out—things such as access and the implications on the local highway network; whether it requires changes to and support for local bus services; the detailed design of proposals. These are absolutely crucial and yet do not necessarily follow automatically from what is in the plan. All those things and a lot more require time. It is better to spend some time getting it right because, for people who live in or visit an area, what is done very often will last for many years—perhaps for hundreds of years. Spending a bit more time getting it right is absolutely vital. Planning is for the lifetime of people who live in an area. Developers looking at the wording of parts of this document may well feel that Christmas has arrived. They may think that it is wonderful—but planning is for life, not just for Christmas.

The final bullet point states that local planning authorities should:

“Grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date”.

The point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hart. It leads to a discussion that we will have on Monday when we return to considering the Localism Bill and debate amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and myself about transitional arrangements in local plan-making and decision-making. There is a concern that the Government did not think this through as well as they should have done when they wrote the Localism Bill and drew up the draft national policy framework. Some of us feel that clear transitional arrangements for the local plan-making system and how it will adapt to the new policies should be set out in the legislation, along with guidance on how planning applications should be dealt with in the mean time. I am aware that the Government are considering putting this instead in the national planning policy framework. I do not mind where it is so long as the system set out is the right one. We need to understand how the process for local planning authorities to get their local plans in line with the new system will work in the absence of regional strategies and planning policy statements, and with just the new NPPF.

Initially, Ministers said that local authorities would have six months to sort themselves out. It is absolutely clear that six months is totally inadequate. A period of 18 months is now being talked about—and probably even that is not enough. The context is that some councils do not have new core strategies in place and still rely on old-style local plans that predate the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Some have new-style local development frameworks and core strategies in place, based on the 2004 Act. Some are moving towards it: they have core strategies, key diagrams and proposal plans that are moving towards the process of inspection and of being adopted. However, seven years after the 2004 Act, what we were told was a new, wonderful, streamlined planning system that would sort everything out clearly has not worked. None of us wants to see that kind of delay applied to the new system.

If the local authority has an approved core strategy, it must still go for its statement of conformity under the new system. How much change will that involve, how long will it take and what procedures are in place? If the authority does not have a core strategy under the 2004 Act but it is moving towards it—perhaps it has submitted it for inspection or is about to do so—how much work will it have to do to take it back, amend it, get new evidence and check it against the rules of this new document? How long will that take and what procedures will be in place? If the local authority is nowhere near this, what on earth is it going to do? What weight can it still take from its existing local plans, at whatever stage they are, to apply to a new planning application? If the answer is that after a certain period of time, perhaps six or 18 months, these are dropped and swept away and it is a free for all, then we are in chaos. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some clear answers to these questions on Monday, but in the mean time they are fundamental to this NPPF and there must be some clear guidelines included in this document, unless the local planning system is simply going to collapse.

My Lords, this is a timely debate on one of the most contentious issues of the moment, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for introducing it and doing so in an absolutely excellent speech.

It is appropriate that this Motion should be introduced from the Benches opposite. The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 was one of the great achievements of the post-war Labour Government and has been responsible for the quite remarkable degree of preservation that has been achieved for the British countryside, including specifically its protection from ribbon development and from inappropriately sited high-rise buildings. To that one could perhaps add protection from suburbanisation, although I must be careful of what I say in front of colleagues who come from Surrey.

The result of this cultivation of one of our most precious national assets is widespread international envy and admiration, and a vibrant rural tourist industry. It would be foolish and tragic to throw this away. I have no objection in principle to this attempt in the NPPF to codify planning law in 50 pages, and I understand that economic activity must be permitted to develop and grow and that an expanding population needs to be accommodated in our crowded island, but as the Prime Minister eventually acknowledged in the letter that he wrote to Dame Fiona Reynolds, it is important to balance environmental considerations against social and economic factors.

I regret that the NPPF has dropped the previous requirement that brownfield sites should be developed ahead of greenfield sites, and I am intrigued and delighted that the party opposite has taken up this issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said last night in support of the amendment to that effect, such a requirement would also benefit the regeneration of run-down urban areas.

I think it is wrong that where local plans have not yet been drawn up—the case with over half of local authorities—or where they are out of date, development can then expect a green light. This is the issue of transition that was taken up last night during proceedings on the Localism Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. Frankly, it would be chicanery to thus trick local authorities out of their rights, given the complicated legal and bureaucratic requirements for drawing up local plans; so this issue must be addressed. Nor do I see why local authorities should be instructed that poor transport links should not be used to justify refusing development plans. Once again, this is unnecessary direction from the top.

Above all, there should be a statement supporting the preservation of the countryside, taking account of its landscape value, outside the designated areas of green belts, AONBs and national parks. After all those areas account for more than half the countryside in England, and without its protection we can expect urban sprawl and the countryside to become scattered with bungalows. That was the purport of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Marlesford last night. The Government may have reaffirmed, and the NPPF may also confirm, the previous protection for designated areas, but to leave out any appreciation of the value and the need to protect countryside outside the designated areas is to leave the impression that all such areas will and should receive no protection.

All these changes could be made with the alteration of just a few words here and there in the NPPF document. Even to add on page 46 after the words “protecting valued landscapes” the words “including non-designated landscapes” might be enough to cater for the inclusion of such areas.

I am not sure whether even designated areas do not require greater protection. In the past two years, there have been two attempts to acquire planning permission for large-scale wind farms six kilometres within the Forest of Bowland AONB. This was undoubtedly a try-on by the developer, and if it had been successful it would have led to a full-blown assault on AONBs nationwide. That suggests that the present protection could and should be improved.

I think there is a tendency for Governments, desperate to produce economic growth, to find in planning policy a scapegoat for the failure of other policies and the imperative of ineluctable circumstance. There is no observable correlation, as the chief executive of CPRE pointed out in a recent published letter, between loose planning regimes and strong economic growth: Germany and the Scandinavian countries having strong planning regimes and economies, Ireland and the Mediterranean countries having weaker ones.

In our small, crowded island, with many precious natural and manmade assets to be preserved as best as possible, it is only right that planning approval should be a laborious process that seeks to find acceptance for a compromise between competing interests. It is the slowness of the process that itself helps to provide the acceptance of the outcome.

There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. We have spent many fruitless hours, and will doubtless spend many hundreds more, bandying about the word “sustainability”. The irony is that there is nothing less sustainable than the Government's entire renewable energy policy. I referred last night to what we saw at the recent Conservative Party conference and to how the leaders of the party are beginning to signal a difference of emphasis with regard to their green policies. They are evidently beginning to be worried about the expense. This expense is, of course, set to rise exponentially and quite unaffordably, so the change in rhetoric will have to be followed by a change in policy, as I said last night, unless we want living standards in this country to be driven back to pre-industrial age levels. That will then make pages 42 and 43 of the draft NPPF, which amount to genuflection before the altar of global warming, entirely out of date.

What will happen then? The Government will have to row back from their instructions to local authorities to pay so much attention to climate change, but that moment cannot come too soon, for the greatest destruction taking place today to our countryside is due to the proliferation of wind turbines, ever larger in size, maintained by subsidies that are largely paid to foreign companies, impoverishing a new generation of consumers, driving large-scale manufacturing overseas so that the carbon emissions are produced abroad but the unemployment is produced at home, enriching a few farmers and landlords but arousing violent antagonism among thousands more. It all amounts to a ruinous tribute to a toppling idol. To give it a final push would do more than anything else to save our countryside and our economy. Is the party opposite not interested in taking up that cause?

My Lords, I declare an interest in Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners and as a director of the River Café, Hammersmith. I join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Rooker on introducing this timely debate. I will discuss the effect that this national planning policy framework is likely to have on our cities and our countryside, which are two sides of the same coin. In fact, cities need to be contained by a belt—green or other—to optimise the benefits of both rather than letting the city sprawl.

I am a practising architect with considerable experience of planning systems around the world. I have advised presidents and mayors in the UK and abroad and retain strong views on planning for the future. Planning systems exist for the benefit and protection of the public good, and I believe that our existing planning system is one of the very best. However, it needs rationalisation. Economics drive the city, but culture is its heart. The urban renaissance is fragile, and if we are not to return to the failing cities of the 1980s, cities need careful love and attention. The proposed national planning policy framework does not recognise the nature and culture of cities. This is the age of cities. More than half the world's population lives in cities. It was 10 per cent 100 years ago and is expected to be 80 per cent in 30 years’ time.

People move to cities to find jobs, to be creative and to mix. There is a correlation between prosperity and urbanisation. There continue to be strong economic and social arguments for prioritising the intensification of existing settlements over greenfield or otherwise remote development. Surprisingly, there is no mention of the use of brownfield or derelict land in the national framework, even though there is no shortage of brownfield sites. The Department for Communities and Local Government's own figures show that despite substantial reuse, there remains virtually the same quantity of available brownfield land as there was 10 years ago, when I chaired its urban task force.

I believe the only sustainable form of development is the compact, polycentric city, which is well-connected and encourages walking and the use of public transport, where public spaces and buildings are well-designed and the poor and rich can live in close proximity. The intensification of existing settlements is economically efficient because it optimises the use of existing infrastructure and the embedded energy within schools, hospitals, roads and homes. Cities such as Vancouver, Portland, New York, especially Manhattan, and compact European cities are more than five times as energy efficient as sprawling cities such as Detroit, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

The success of retrofitting cities and neighbourhoods has created an urban renaissance that has come about through relatively tight controls on out-of-town retail and commercial development and residential buildings. Over the past decade, the empty gaps in eroded cities and neighbourhoods have been filled in as people moved back into cities. This brings vitality, wealth and security to these cities, but this is a very selective and delicate situation.

Let us take the examples of some areas of Manchester, Liverpool and London. In 1990, there were 90 people living in the heart of Manchester; today there are 20,000. Over the same period, the population of central Liverpool increased fourfold, and London had three-quarters of a million people added to its population, all housed on brownfield land.

The new policy framework favours sustainable development, which I applaud, but it fails to articulate what it is beyond putting economic growth first. I believe that sustainability means social well-being, design excellence and environmental responsibility within a viable economic and legislative framework. Sustainability is about long-term thinking and ambitions. My noble friend Lord Hart clearly defined sustainability in his speech, and I agree with his other points.

The compact city is the only form of sustainable development where poor and rich can live side by side. By cutting over 1,000 pages of proposed legislation to just over 50 pages, careful, detailed advice has been abandoned in favour of generalities. There is a risk that the courts will decide planning applications rather than communities. For example, granting planning on the basis that local plans are absent or incomplete is totally unacceptable and certainly not environmentally sustainable. More houses need to be built, but there is no proof whatever that the fall in the number of dwellings over the past years has anything at all to do with the lack of buildable land. Currently there are 66,000 hectares of brownfield land in England, and this increases every year. Some 330,000 planning permissions for dwellings have not yet been built, and 750,000 homes are lying empty—well enough to meet all our housing needs. Dereliction and the fragmentation of towns where buildings stand empty create no-go areas, which is why we have to start building and retrofitting in these places.

The Government’s attempt to give local councils and communities independence is attractive. However, it needs careful studying and long-term planning, as there will be a need for more decision-making bodies, which in turn will require well-trained specialists who even now are in very short supply. Even in London only a handful of boroughs are actually capable of performing planning tasks.

The good design of public spaces and buildings is critical to improve the quality of life. Bad design impoverishes and brutalises. Much of what we build today will last for hundreds of years. If the framework is not greatly improved, it will lead to the breakdown and fragmentation of cities and neighbourhoods and the erosion of the countryside. To conclude, retrofitting an existing city brings life back to that city, minimises the cost and allows the countryside to be used for pleasure.

My Lords, while respecting what planning has achieved over the last 50 years, there is no doubt that it can still be improved: to encourage local people to get involved in the decisions that affect their lives; to reduce delays; and, indeed, to deliver the sustainable development that we all know we need. As such, the Government’s attempts to reform the planning system should be welcomed, and I understand the rationale for cutting the plethora of guidance and regulations down to a manageable size, into this new national planning policy framework.

A readable document for committed but time-poor councillors at the sharp end of planning decisions up and down the country seems no bad thing. However, in slimming things down, policies get lost and confusion can—and indeed has—been created. I believe the Government when they say this is a genuine consultation because I have found Ministers receptive to listening to the real concerns over a number of policies that I and others have raised, and for that I am grateful.

Today I would like to concentrate on two overarching issues. The first is the clarity of intent. It is to be welcomed that the national planning policy framework defines the first principle of planning as helping to “achieve sustainable development”. However, the current document is insufficiently clear or coherent in its articulation of what sustainable development is. The reference to Brundtland in paragraph 9 is effectively marooned because the document does not outline any detailed mechanism for its implementation. Part of the reason for this must be our belief in localism—something we Liberal Democrats share with our coalition partners—and that means giving local councils the power to articulate their vision of sustainable development for their area through genuinely sovereign local development plans. However, the lack of any strategic vision means that we will be the only country in northern Europe not to articulate a spatial strategy.

In the absence of such a clear vision from the Government articulating what might or might not be appropriate in spatial planning terms, it is imperative that the definition of sustainable development is clear from the outset about the expected route of travel. If we do not do this, we risk failing to meet the multiple challenges facing us over the next 20 years and beyond: the challenges of a rising population, the need to mitigate the effects of climate change, and the transition to a low-carbon economy. Therefore, it is imperative to revise the draft national planning policy framework to incorporate upfront the definition of sustainable development that is currently used in the UK sustainable development strategy, as has been previously mentioned by Members on the other Benches. Its five widely accepted principles provide a common framework for sustainable development and establish the twin goals of living within environmental limits and providing a just society by means of good governance, social science and a sustainable economy.

Secondly, I would like to comment on the language of the document—or rather, as I see it, its poverty of expression. In the national debate about the future of planning, there is insufficient conformity in the language about what sustainable development means. Throughout this document, and indeed in ministerial statements and comments, the language of sustainable development too often morphs into references to the importance of sustainable economic growth. This lack of conformity leads to a sense that economic imperatives are not equal but superior to social and environmental imperatives.

One notable example is in paragraph 13, the first paragraph under the heading “The presumption in favour of sustainable development”. Its focus on sustainable economic growth, arguing that,

“without growth, a sustainable future cannot be achieved”,

is reinforced with a demand that,

“significant weight should be placed on the need to support economic growth”.

This sends out an unequal message about the relative importance of economic growth in delivering the presumption in favour of sustainable development. The language of the document needs to be tightened up throughout to indicate that, while economic growth is vital, it does not equate to this Government’s understanding of what sustainable development is.

Recognising that economic growth is vital should not make us fearful of articulating what is special and precious about our landscape. However, gone from this document is the statement of the importance of protecting the countryside for its own sake, leaving a sense that what matters is only what can be counted or how much something contributes to GDP. Of course our natural environment has an economic value. The recent UK national ecosystem assessment found that ecosystem services and the natural environment are worth billions of pounds to the UK economy, and hundreds of thousands of jobs are supported by the natural environment through industries such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, conservation and tourism. Tourists flock to see the majesty of the Highlands and the Lake District, to wonder at the rugged coastline of Cornwall, to travel through the patchwork quilt of Devon fields or indeed the wooded coombes of my native Surrey.

The rallying cry in my local church the other week was, “Beauty is to the spirit what food is to the body”. I am reminded of that as I pause to consider that our country is more than a geographical mass. It is a place where humans interact with nature, where cities reflect our shared history and where our culture and our sense of who we are is often expressed through our sense of place. It should be no crime to want to articulate what makes this country—particularly our countryside—so special. We should not be afraid to say that what makes it special is worth protecting and enhancing so that we can hand on a country to our children that can enrich their lives as surely as it has ours.

My Lords, the Draft National Planning Policy Framework is well on the way to becoming a sensible and civilised policy document.

It secures a strong role for planning within the new localism. In the future that it envisages—provided local planning authorities have plans, local development frameworks, and provided those plans are up to date—communities will be strongly placed to shape development in their areas.

The document seeks to remove unnecessary barriers within the planning system to the creation of badly needed new homes and jobs, which are needed in rural areas as elsewhere. In doing so, the draft NPPF puts forward a planning regime that would balance economic with social and environmental objectives. It commits the planning system to sustainable development—development which, in the Brundtland definition, meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

It requires that housing development should be planned so as to satisfy the variety of needs for different tenures in mixed communities. It is alert to the needs of disabled people. It proposes an inclusive planning process which would, more than in the past, offer opportunities for people in their neighbourhoods to have their voices heard and indeed to have power to shape the places where they live.

The NPPF is admirable in the importance that it attaches to good design, which is essential to integrating economic, social and environmental objectives, building public confidence and delivering sustainable development. Echoing the Labour Government’s document Better Public Buildings, the Minister says in his foreword:

“Our standards of design can be so much higher. We are a nation renowned worldwide for creative excellence, yet, at home, confidence in development itself has been eroded by the too frequent experience of mediocrity”.

The document wisely gives much weight to design review at the pre-application stage, which provides a more positive approach than reliance on development control post-application. I applaud the insistence that,

“planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes”,

the adjuration that,

“significant weight should be given to truly outstanding or innovative designs”,

and the clear authorisation to planning authorities to refuse permission for development of poor design. Equally, I applaud the document’s ambitions for the historic environment.

So why is there such a row? The policy has been grotesquely misrepresented by the National Trust. On 28 July in the Guardian, Sir Simon Jenkins accused the Government of having,

“sneaked out the most astonishing change to the face of England in half a century”.

He alleged that the national planning policy framework,

“encourages building wherever the market takes it”.

Of the Localism Bill, he said that it is

“a straight developers’ ramp … Pickles and Cable are mere purveyors of building plots to the capitalist classes … This Bill is philistine, an abuse of local democracy and an invitation to corruption”.

As a columnist Sir Simon is free to put forward his personal views, however extreme, although that intemperate tone seems inappropriate. His devotion to the heritage is not in doubt, but in his capacity as chairman of the National Trust a balanced and fair exposition of the issues is expected.

The National Trust, unlike the CPRE, does not provide on its website a link to the draft NPPF; far from assisting its members to become correctly informed about the Government's proposals, it is polemical and misleading. The National Trust’s daily planning blog purveys, without correction or criticism, slurs from elsewhere: the RAC pointing to,

“the traffic chaos that would occur”;

and the Association of British Insurers emphasising,

“the increased dangers of flooding from the concreting of Britain.”

They must have been reading a different document from the one that I have read.

The National Trust does not report alternative views. For example, Colin Wiles, writing in Inside Housing, has observed that,

“if we built 250,000 homes a year for the next ten years only around a third of one percent of countryside would be affected”,

and that,

“the voices of the homeless and badly housed are not being heard in this debate”.

The National Trust’s operation is a case study of the mischief that can be created by unscrupulous digital campaigning. It is aided and abetted by irresponsible media—not just columnists indulging themselves but reporters who think that they have done their job by reporting what people are saying rather than what, on the basis of careful investigation, they believe to be a fair account. Members of the National Trust, who are almost by definition responsible citizens with a deep commitment to the well-being of our country, must be embarrassed by the antics of their normally revered organisation.

The campaign by the CPRE has been altogether more balanced and responsible, but we need, I suggest, less campaigning and more debate. In that spirit, I have criticisms to make of the draft NPPF, which, for all its merits, has serious weaknesses.

The most crucial problem with the policy is that, according to the invaluable analysis by the CPRE, 48 per cent of local planning authorities do not yet have a local development framework. The NPPF states that planning authorities should,

“grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date”.

This could indeed lead to inappropriate development if the framework becomes operational too soon.

The department is already urging planning authorities to proceed on the basis of the NPPF even before it has become formalised. The Government should not be so impatient. A great deal of anger and grief, and some damaging development, could be averted if the Government would allow planning authorities reasonable time—I think two years are needed—to draw up or update, consult upon and establish local plans. It is not as if in current economic conditions there is a great logjam of viable development proposals, and there are plenty of extant planning permissions. By delaying implementation of the new planning regime we would not be blocking economic activity that would lead us to the growth we so badly need.

The Government should also be realistic about the resources needed to enable planning authorities and the Planning Inspectorate to fulfil all the demanding requirements set out in the NPPF. Even before the Government imposed cuts of approaching 30 per cent on local authority expenditure, many planning departments were weak. The Government’s policy should mean a rehabilitation, indeed a renaissance, of planning. But as things are, more qualified planners, so I am told, are employed by developers than by planning authorities. Local authorities are cutting historic environment services—13.5 per cent of conservation officers and 9 per cent of archaeological officers in the past year. It will take time to rebuild planning authorities. A hasty implementation of the new planning policy risks creating new disillusion.

Will the Minister explain how parishes and neighbourhood forums are to have the skills needed for the role that the NPPF proposes for them? How are they to avoid capture by developer interests?

The Government’s approach abandons strategic vision transcending local planning areas. The duty to co-operate is a poor substitute for regional spatial strategies. Policy on transport, other infrastructure and economic development cannot be made satisfactorily by individual local authorities. The willingness to co-operate may not be there. The interests of different communities may be antagonistic. Regional development agencies were able to take a wider and objective view of the public interest, promote co-operation, mediate and reconcile differences.

Why could the Government not bring themselves to reaffirm explicitly the principle of brownfield first? They suggest that that is what they still want, but nowhere in the draft does the word brownfield occur. If they would just reinstate that doctrine, which is universally accepted other than by the volume housebuilders, there would be a huge national sigh of relief.

I have no objection to slimming down the volume of planning regulation. But to reduce 1,300 pages to 60 is inevitably to replace the specific with the general, sometimes the stratospherically general. Why junk the planning policy statements? These were the product of a huge amount of work in recent years by expert and committed people. They represented arduously achieved and invaluable concordats. By all means have a simple overriding statement of planning philosophy as in the NPPF, but support it with more detailed guidance in planning policy statements.

Unless there is greater substance, more specificity, in the NPPF, I fear that the new planning regime will be vulnerable to endless litigation. How are these decent generalities to be interpreted in practice? Feelings run very high over planning issues, where not only investment is at stake but quality of life. The planning framework needs to be clear and robust. The wording on advertising is dangerously vague. How will the concept of sustainable development itself fare in the courts? How much investment will there be if the legal framework is too uncertain? Is there a risk that legal delays will be a greater impediment to development than the so-called bureaucracy of the planning policy statements?

I acquit the Government of barbaric intentions. There is, however, some unrealism in the draft NPPF; a tightening of definitions is needed; and there are important omissions to be repaired. The document should unequivocally and unmistakeably make clear that the purpose of planning is equally to conserve and improve the quality of the environment as it is to promote development. The planning system should not be distorted in legislation to deliver short-term financial gains. If the Government pay heed to sensible representations—there are indications that they will—we could reach a consensus which will serve us well.

My Lords, I must begin, as did my noble friend Lord Greaves, by declaring an interest as a councillor on a local planning authority. However, unlike my noble friend, I have managed to spend 37 years as a councillor without ever serving on a development control committee, except perhaps for a couple of years when we made the mistake of giving development control powers to our area committees on which all of us have to serve. We quickly learnt the lesson to which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred, as to why it is so obvious that development control powers do not go to parishes.

I am also, I know, the only London borough councillor to be speaking in this debate. Therefore, I feel that it is incumbent on me to remind your Lordships, particularly the Minister, who I am sure as a former London borough council leader needs no reminding, that London will be the only part of England to retain a regional tier of planning and a regional plan, the London Plan. It would be very helpful if the final form of the national planning policy framework document recognises the position of London and the London Plan and has something to say about how that will relate to the local development plans of each of the London boroughs and indeed the City of London and what the relationship will be between those two under the new regime.

At 10 o’clock last night, I was seriously wondering whether I would be able to follow the usual custom of welcoming the debate today and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on bringing it to us. This was because—as my noble friend has also said—we had already spent five or six hours debating planning in the Localism Bill. In my view, a number of speeches would have been more appropriately made today rather than yesterday, except that they would not have fitted within the time limit imposed upon us today. We will return to it on Monday. We already know that we will have another debate on the NPPF on 27 October. However, the quality of the debate today—not least the introductory speech from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—has convinced me that I was perhaps just at a low ebb at 10 o’clock last night and that this has been a very good debate.

The whole process got off to a very bad start. First, we were getting very mixed messages from Ministers. The neighbourhood planning proposals were launched, which were described as a charter for nimbyism, followed not long afterwards by the NPPF, which was described as the charter for developers. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has made reference to the rather extreme campaign launched by the National Trust. I suppose I must now declare an interest as a member of the National Trust, which is a membership that I intend to retain because I like the free visits to its properties. However, I entirely share the noble Lord’s comments about the extremely unhelpful nature of the way in which it expressed its views. It did not help to have a sensible and well informed debate, which is what the consultation process should have been about.

When Ministers come to consider all of this—and clearly they will consider the responses that have been received—I hope that they will also consider the communications strategy that they have followed in the launch of the NPPF. It has to be said that it has not been a success. As I have said, we had a very bad start. I pay tribute to the planning Minister, who has been working very hard and quite successfully to retrieve ground that need not have been lost in the first place.

Part of the problem is that consultation has got a bad name from successive governments and indeed from many local authorities. Consultation is so often believed by those consulting to be simply a formality—necessary to be gone through—whether in order to comply with the law or simply because it is the right thing to do. More often than not, I suspect, the final document and decisions are more or less exactly the same as those in the original consultation. This is often proper and legitimate provision of public information and public debate but it is not consultation. Therefore on this occasion—and on others, but particularly on this one—Ministers and others speaking for the Government have said, “No, no, no—this time it is real consultation”. If we have consultation, all of it should be real. I certainly accept and believe that this is a real consultation. I am sure that when we eventually see the final NPPF, it will be different in a number of significant respects from the original.

The Minister told us during proceedings on the Localism Bill yesterday that there had so far been 10,000 responses. Speaking as co-chair of the Liberal Democrats communities and local government parliamentary committee, I can tell her that by Monday she will have at least 10,001 responses because we have this morning agreed our response. I will not spoil the eager anticipation with which I know she will await the post on Monday in order to read the response, but she will have had a flavour of it from two of my noble colleagues who have spoken today. We will welcome the aims of the NPPF. As my noble friend Lady Parminter says—and I speak as a local councillor—having something reduced to a readable document of readable length is a great assistance to those of us who do not earn our living working in planning law. It is far more likely to be read by councillors, whether on development control committees or generally, than is now the case.

We feel that there needs to be a conformity of language throughout the document. It reads at present as if it has been prepared by a number of different government departments with different priorities. This might be the reality, but the final document needs to be a single government document that reflects those priorities and reflects a proper balance between those priorities. Reference has been made to the three pillars. Unless those three pillars are given an equal strength and recognition, the structure that rests upon those pillars is likely to be slanted and eventually to collapse altogether. We stress the importance of equal priority to all three pillars.

Next is the perhaps difficult question—which many have raised—of having a proper definition of sustainable development, which is in the framework document and which applies and is used throughout it. We believe that we should use the definition in the 2005 UK sustainable development strategy for a very good reason. It is well understood and generally supported. Trying to invent a new one is bound to lead to lengthy argument and dispute and serves no useful purpose at all. I have heard it said that this strategy applies to government as a whole and that it is not wholly relevant to planning. I dispute this. It is based on a number of guiding principles: living within environmental limits, achieving a sustainable economy, ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, using sound science responsibly and promoting good governance. All those principles apply very importantly to planning, particularly promoting good governance. These are important principles and they fit planning extremely well.

Others, particularly my noble friend Lord Greaves, have made reference to the need for a clear statement on the transition period. I know that the Government are working on this. It is an extremely important period when we move from the disappearance—rightly or otherwise—of regional spatial strategies next April through to updated or, in many cases, new local plans. I have not too much sympathy for those surprisingly large number of authorities which, in the five or six years that they have had, have not managed to developed a local plan. All local plans are likely to need to be updated in the light of the new regime; that takes time. The framework document needs to be clear not only on the process for the transition period but also for the length of time to be allowed for that transition period. At our committee meeting this morning we had some discussion on what that time period should be. One council leader suggested that it should be at least two years if councils are allowed to decide for themselves, and at least twice as long if the planning inspectorate and central government get involved in the process. This was not said in jest and I think it very sensible. It may well be that three years—or between two and four years—is about right. Whatever it is, it needs to be there.

We also support the view that “brownfield sites first” needs to remain and be clear in the document. We strongly support the need for more housing but question the need to dictate that local authorities must identify five-year land supply plus 20 per cent regardless of circumstances.

I know that the Minister must be constrained in what she can say in reply because the consultation has not yet closed and Ministers have not had the time to consider the responses. However, perhaps she can set out for us in her reply what is to be the process to be followed in producing the final document from now on—from the close of consultation—and when might we see it.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rooker for having created the opportunity for this debate. As noble Lords can imagine, as a Planning Minister he was a rather difficult act to follow. For a long time, people were obviously disappointed that I was not my noble friend. They would say, “But Lord Rooker said that we could—”, whatever it was. He approached his brief with the same boldness he showed when, as a Minister at the Dispatch Box, he tore up his script. But this has been an excellent debate and I am glad that we are to have another one on 27 October because a lot of questions still need to be raised, and we will have moved a little further forward by then.

I declare an interest as the chair of English Heritage and I shall start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on her speech and the emphasis she put on place. Indeed, place and what that means to us is absolutely central to how we conduct ourselves and feel ourselves to be part of the community. The meaning and wealth of our heritage and the local historic environment are important to our notion of our place in the world and in our society. As a Planning Minister, I often wrestled with the issues raised by heritage and development, but like other noble Lords, I was deeply impressed by the way the planning system was constructed and how it worked, and by the integrity and passion that went into making decent local plans. So I do not believe that the planning system is broken. It can be improved, and I shall come on to say a bit about that.

What I did learn as a Minister was the vital importance of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. It has proved to be one of the most successful pieces of legislation ever enacted. Without it, London would now stretch as far as Brighton. On the whole, it has served us well, with its enduring impact on the necessity for balance in planning, although in effect it has always had a presumption in favour of development. It is important to keep that in mind because the NPPF now sits at the heart of a radically reformed planning system governed by the Localism Bill, along with the changed frameworks and devolved planning responsibilities that it will bring forward. It is indeed a new landscape, and that is why we must take extreme care over what we in this House provide by way of advice to the Minister. The Government themselves need to take care. I think that the Minister has already been given a lot of good advice in the debate today.

The NPPF has been worth waiting for, although we could have done with it at the Second Reading of the Localism Bill. I say that because never during my brief career in planning was I able to arouse much interest in planning. I felt that, with the exception of noble Lords in this House, I was ploughing a lonely furrow as I enthused about its power to create better places and sustainable futures. Today, not least thanks to the National Trust, it is on the front pages in a big way.

I shall summarise what English Heritage feels about the NPPF document as a whole before going on to talk about some of the specifics and the general issues. Many things about the NPPF are to be welcomed. A shorter, integrated document will probably be more accessible, better understood and possibly more effective. However, as other noble Lords have said, in the distillation of so much planning guidance into such a short statement, some of the encouragement to aspire to better quality development has been lost in the staccato instructions of the new document. For example, I particularly regret the loss of emphasis on the positive role our heritage plays in making new places—in its regeneration role. I, too, share the concerns expressed by many noble Lords about the tone of the document, and the NPPF, having established an interweaving of social, economic and environmental strands to create sustainable development at the beginning of the document, then starts to unpick it in subsequent parts of the framework. The frequent entreaties to favour economic considerations over social and environmental ones give the impression of imbalance and inconsistency in the document. That is one of the strong messages that has come across the Chamber today.

I turn now to issues around heritage. The document as it stands is not only a distillation of PPS 5, as my noble friend Lord Hart pointed out, it is also a distillation of what that document did only last year, which was to reduce two massive planning documents—PPS 15 and 16—into one concise paper. It took a lot of effort, but it produced a workable and coherent document. Like my noble friend Lord Rooker, I hope that the Government will learn from the major beneficial achievements of previous Governments, not just the previous Government, and take up and develop what does work.

What I can say, in terms of picking up the key policy points of heritage protection set out in PPS 5, Planning for the Historic Environment, is that the Government have done a good job, but there are still a number of changes to the text as a whole, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and I have exchanged correspondence. Our heritage in this country is extremely fragile and fine-grained because of the country in which we live and our historic market towns. We need to be careful to ensure that our heritage protection system remains robust and resilient. It is, and that must be sustained, which is why the NPPF document is so important. However, one problem is that the NPPF does not contain any policy for decision-makers to deal with proposals where there is moderate or minor harm to heritage assets such as listed building consents. Not only does that make it difficult for us to prevent the accumulation of small damages to the environment, it also makes it more difficult for us to use those buildings and places to encourage regeneration or to alter what is available. It puts a brake on the best sort of development. I would ask the noble Baroness to look carefully at this.

We need also to recognise that the historic environment is a non-renewable resource. In that context, the document misses out one of the powerful arguments for heritage, which is that it does not serve the past, but the future. It is part of the economic and social solutions for the future. We are certainly not interested in preservation for the sake of it, but we want to see the sensational buildings of the past fashion the future. For example, the way in which the wonderful Georgian buildings of the Royal William Yard in Plymouth have been brought back to life will serve the area for the future. At King’s Cross we have the best of Victorian design matched by the brilliance of the best designers in this country. That is what we should be aiming for.

I know that the NPPF has sparked off a general furore and that the Government are looking for accommodations. We are reasonably confident, within the bounds of heritage protections, that our conversations with Ministers are going ahead very positively, but there is still concern across the heritage sector about the unbalanced emphasis in favour of development and the impact of that presumption which, as it stands, seems to pit economic development against social benefits and environmental protections. I welcome the assurances given by Ministers, including the noble Baroness, that there is no intention to diminish heritage protection, but some changes still need to be made to ensure that it will hold up in the context of the whole document. For example, the consequence of requiring local authorities to grant permission,

“unless the adverse impact of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits”

which, as my noble friend says, is a new concept in the presumption, will conflict with the heritage policies in the historic environment section and other environmental protection policies which require that the benefits of development should outweigh harm—there is a contradiction there—that favours conservation where the decision is balanced. We need the Government to clarify the primacy of policy requiring local planning authorities, when considering the impact of proposed development on a designated heritage asset or its setting, to give weight to its conservation. It could be done explicitly by stating that the historic environment policies are to override the generality of the definition of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. I believe that that would be logically unsatisfactory. Much more preferable would be clarity as to the true meaning of sustainable development—development that meets the tests set out in the NPPF. It is that sort of development which we should be presuming. That would resolve many of the objections that have been raised.

In conclusion, I shall speak briefly on the wider canvas. I thank the noble Baroness for what she has done to improve the conditions around neighbourhood planning. We still have an outstanding issue to do with archaeology, as I am sure she knows, and I think that there are questions on the generality of neighbourhood planning issues in terms of the clarity of new plans and development orders: the notion of what an up-to-date plan is and the vacuum that might be created if plans are not in date.

In due course, I hope that we will continue our discussions on sustainable development. We need absolute clarity on brownfield, including the term used in the document. We need the “town centre first” policy restated and not watered down. We also need to see specific protection for the countryside, although possibly not in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, offered yesterday. I believe that there is a way of doing that which seeks to protect and enhance the quality, character and amenity value of the countryside and urban areas as a whole and picks up the lost parts of previous documents. I offer those suggestions to the Government.

Let us not forget that all this is happening at a time when local authorities are losing resources, confidence and skills. We have placed a huge challenge in front of them to deliver a planning system that is more responsive, but let us not miss out on some of the absolutely crucial protections that have sustained the balance and made our planning system so successful.

My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but I have been so impressed by the quality of the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Rooker that I want to make one or two comments in this reunion of Planning Ministers. When we first came into Government in 1979, I had that responsibility for four years in the Department of the Environment.

I also wanted to add a voice from these Benches to my noble friend in support of some of the helpful comments that have been made. I particularly thought that the noble Lords, Lord Hart, Lord Howarth and Lord Rogers, made most interesting speeches.

I shall make just three points. First, there must be a presumption in favour of brownfield land. That is not just important because you are saving green fields. It is crucially important for urban renewal—town centre and city centre renewal. It is more difficult and takes a little more time but the benefits are very real. The noble Lord, Lord Rogers, brought that point out very clearly.

Secondly, a point was made that some people had been pretty slow about local plans. Wiltshire, which I know quite well, has formed itself into a unitary authority within the past 18 months. It is now in the process of trying to create its local plan. It has not been dilatory: it is just that it does not have one at the moment. I hope that those points have been taken into account. I do not know whether the period should be one or two years—the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, suggested two years—but it would be intolerable if developers were able to take advantage of the absence of a local plan, perhaps for perfectly valid reasons, to establish quite unacceptable developments.

Thirdly, I understand the enthusiasm of new Ministers coming in when they launch these new policies. It seems a wonderful statement to get rid of 1,000 pages and have only 52. I have a certain feeling that I am probably responsible for one or two of the pages that will now be swept away by the great reformers. I dare to believe that there can now be a period of reflection when we might just draw on—the noble Lord, Lord Hart, made this point—the merit in some of the stuff there. If we do not quite achieve a 52-page outcome, it might be worth while seeing what is really of merit and quality that can be kept.

I particularly welcome the splendid way in which my noble friend has dealt with a very difficult situation. This was not magnificently launched at the start and there were many misunderstandings. I think that we can find our way through to a sensible planning policy that must have continuity and good sense behind it. Some of the arguments have suggested that it does not matter about planning because we have plenty of green fields and areas. After a short break, I went from being Secretary of State for the Environment to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. There are an enormous number of green fields in Northern Ireland but anyone who looks can see how planning has gone wrong there. People have been allowed to build in quite inappropriate places in really wonderful countryside.

Of course we must encourage growth where sensible, but getting sensible planning policies in place on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis is very sensible and I admire very much the way in which noble Lords have conducted this debate.

My Lords, I do not know whether I am the first to do so, but I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, on her appointment and welcome her to the Front Bench. I should also like to congratulate, as other noble Lords have done, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who has occasioned this debate and introduced it with his customary brio. He will not be entirely surprised to know that I do not agree with everything he said. In fact, I think he would have been rather disappointed if I had.

In my more charitable moments, and oddly enough I have a few, I am tempted to feel sorry for Ministers, assailed as they have been by the leftist leader writers of the Telegraph, the closet revolutionaries of CPRE and the naysayers of the National Trust—or the national trots as I understand they have been referred to occasionally by Ministers. The case against them has been overdone, although there are serious reservations about aspects of the framework that we need to address.

I am particularly glad that the noble Lords, Lord Rogers and Lord Hart—as formidable a duo in this context as their namesakes in the realm of musical comedy—have demolished the myth that somehow planning has been responsible for the failure of the national economy, the low number of houses being built and the rest of it. That is not the case. Indeed, I heard recently the director of a major building company which develops a number of properties in urban areas agree about that. Some 80 per cent of planning applications are agreed and, as we have heard, substantial permissions are extant but without development occurring. Perhaps that is a matter that the Government need to address, possibly by levying taxes on undeveloped land as an incentive to those who own it and have planning permission to get on and develop.

However, one of the problems with the framework—it is not a particular problem with this document—is that there is no national context. There is no plan for England into which this framework would fit and which would provide a context for planning decisions about such crucial matters as economic growth reflecting the demographic change, the challenge of climate change and the rest of it. This is a framework that addresses individual decision-making but there is no national concept about dealing with infrastructural or overall needs and demands. That is something that the previous Government did not get round to doing and I hope that the present one will look to that.

The difficulty is compounded because there is no longer any regional strategy either, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, made clear. For that matter, there is no sub-regional strategy. These create difficulties for those working in planning.

One of the issues that has been touched on and may reflect problems with the system is the lack of capacity in the planning world in terms of planning officers. That was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. In that context, it is perhaps unfortunate that the Government have abolished the planning development grant which encouraged capacity within the profession and within local government. At some point, that might be worth revisiting.

One of the difficulties with the framework is the lack of definition about what sustainable development really means. The emphasis seems to be entirely on economic growth, although there is actually no definition of that either. Presumably, a petrol station or out-of-town shopping centre could constitute economic growth. That lack of context is worrying. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, suggested, we need get to back to the 2005 code for sustainable development and use that as the basis. We also need to ensure that we reflect adequately the issues around the need to respond to climate change—the mitigation and adaptation—and to promote green development, including, the noble Lord, Lord Reay, will be very disappointed to hear, renewables, as part of the combating of climate change, but also, possibly, as an engine itself of the economic growth that we all want to see and which the framework clearly seeks to promote.

However, sustainability is not simply a matter of sustainability in one area. You cannot look at sustainability in one local authority area, any more than you could develop, as Stalin hoped to do, socialism in one country; you have to look at the impact of development in an urban area on its rural neighbour, and vice versa. Sustainability needs to be seen in a somewhat broader context. Many of your Lordships have referred to the need in particular—this is a relevant aspect of the point I have just made—to be very clear about the question of brownfield sites. The Minister did refer to this last night although it does not seem to be in the document. Perhaps, as a result of the consultation, a clearer and greater emphasis could be made on that aspect, as well as on the issue of town centre first, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews.

In planning development, one has to look beyond housing development, for which, contrary to the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, there is a clear need. It is not just a question of housing demand; there is palpable housing need, not least in rural areas, although not for large-scale development.

I am not sure I said there was no need for housing development. I said I felt there was an almost infinite demand and that to try to meet that substantial demand was probably optimistic.

That is possibly right, which is why I want to refer to need as the basis of a housing programme. There is also the question of the duty to co-operate, which some of your Lordships have mentioned, and which I entirely endorse. However, there is no actual mechanism, either in the framework or elsewhere, to secure that. I refer, yet again, to what is the planning equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein question, which is the Stevenage question—an authority wanting, or even needing, to house some of its people outside its boundaries and finding no accommodation with the adjoining authority. In the absence of a regional spatial strategy, there does not seem to be a mechanism to secure that; so that, again, needs to be looked at.

There are significant issues about the presumption in favour of development, in particular where there is no local development plan. As we know, there are no local development plans in a number of areas—that is unfortunate, but it is the case—and we need to look at how we cope with the transition. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to this and he is absolutely right. We will no doubt touch on this further as the Localism Bill goes forward but if the Minister could give an indication of some direction on the question of transition, that would be helpful. There needs to be a general presumption in favour of development, but in favour of planned development. That has been the case until now, and that does seem to be the right way to take matters forward rather than have a simple carte blanche for any sort of development.

The debate today has been an interesting one and we have heard a number of views. A better balance has been struck here in your Lordships’ House than has been struck in some of the media. Nevertheless, there are genuine concerns, particularly—but not exclusively—in the countryside, about the potential impact of the thrust of the new framework. I hope that after the consultation process has ended the Government will be able to reassure people in the countryside that it is not a question of threatening the viability and attractiveness of the countryside but of strengthening rural communities alongside those of urban areas. We have to be careful about the industry, which is always prone to finding someone to blame for its problems and always prone to taking the line of least resistance in terms of where it seeks to develop. We have to incentivise development where it is most needed. Some of that will be to meet the needs of rural areas and communities, particularly in terms of housing for younger people. Much of it must be within the urban core, where, as your Lordships will be aware, the number of people seeking housing, particularly to rent, is growing significantly. As I said yesterday, we have to look in terms of affordable housing; not only in terms of owner-occupation—which of course is very desirable—but also affordable rental housing, whether social or otherwise, for the large numbers of people who are living in unsatisfactory conditions and for whom this national planning framework does not, at the moment, seem to do enough.

My Lords, this has been a fantastic and fascinating debate. There is always a depth of experience and wisdom around this House that very many people in other places will be jealous of. We pull together so much here that perhaps it simply gets diffused elsewhere. I am enormously grateful to everybody who has taken part and to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for having taken up the baton and introduced this debate today.

I was slightly diffident as to whether this debate was being held at the appropriate point in discussions. However, I think that I have now come to the conclusion that this debate as well as the one on 27 April will provide—

I am always in trouble on this—the debate on 27 October also will produce extra thoughts. I am encouraged by the comprehensive nature of the points brought forward today. However, I shall inevitably not be categorical in responding to any of the points raised today as this is still the consultation period and, as I said last night, the Government are listening carefully to what is being said. I do not think that anyone would deny that this has got off to a reasonably bad start. It has not been helped, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said, by some pretty acerbic and unjust comments from some of the bigger organisations. There has been some criticism of our communications strategies, but to some extent it falls on to the other side as well. If you are going to be controversial and against something then you really must start from a different place to where some of the criticism hurled at us has come from.

These are all practical areas that we are talking about. If ever there was a practical aspect of local government, it is planning. It is very immediate and affects individual people very strongly. As a former member of a planning committee as well as leader of a council, I know that planning is probably the subject that fills one’s postbag most. There will not be many in the country who do not have views on what is being put forth, in addition to the views we have heard today. I therefore welcome the debate very strongly. I can assure you that I will not be able to respond to everyone, although I will try to mention one or two people on the way. However, we have a careful note of what has been said; Hansard will be scrutinised tomorrow; and the points and concerns raised today will be put forward into the consultation. If we have 1,001 contributions by tomorrow, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and add up all the comments today, I am not sure that one is going to be a sufficient justification.

I very much welcome the fact that the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Howarth, welcomed this framework. I totally accept that they did not do so without reservations. Both noble Lords certainly had criticisms, but both also understood where the starting pace for this came from. It is fine to have 1,300 pages of planning policy, statements and guidance, but what that actually means is that only about three people in the country actually know—and one of those may have forgotten—where all the documents and high-level policies are. It also makes it quite unfathomable to ordinary people who want to try to find out what the planning policies are, because they have to find their way through so many documents. We want the national planning policy framework to be accessible to everybody so that they understand where the high-level policies come from, as well as how they are going to be implemented.

The basis for this, as we discussed yesterday and will discuss again on Monday, will be the local plans. They are the generator of all that is going to come about from our national policy framework. We believe that planning is local. It is all about what people like and want to protect about their neighbourhood. It is about how people are affected by what somebody next door to them does and how you make sure you sustain the sort of reasonable life that one hopes for them. We are therefore, as we also discussed last night, proposing within this to have local planning frameworks and local documents and then to pass that down even further to neighbourhood planning. That will require guidance. I fully accept, as noble Lords have said, that it will also require good professional support. The neighbourhood plans will very much reflect what local communities think and need. I am enthusiastic about getting this into the local area.

A number of noble Lords touched on local development frameworks. I think I am right in saying that only some 48 per cent of local authorities have a framework at the moment, but there will be much encouragement for them to develop one and bring it forward. The encouragement will be based partly on the fact that local authorities will not want to have decisions made round them but will want to be fully in charge of the decisions made. We will encourage them to finish the frameworks and get them into a position where they can be used and then to ensure that the contents fall within the national policy framework when it comes forward.

Local government has been slow in dealing with the frameworks and in some ways resistant to completing them. We are adamant that the frameworks should be completed as quickly as possible. We want to get all the issues right—many of them have been raised today—and end up with a framework that we are proud of and that people are relatively happy with. We do not want there to be a sense that something unwelcome has been done or that some factors are missing.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, made a plea about transition from one document to another. That matter is under close consideration and is well understood. It has been made very clear that there should not be a hiatus. We will take careful note of that.

Sustainable development was also discussed last night. As everyone knows, it is dealt with in depth in the framework, in local planning and development. We want to keep sustainable development in the plans, though not the individual plans, as it is currently buried in local development frameworks and neighbourhood planning. The discussion that we need to have now, and I gave a commitment last night that we would, is about where sustainability should be defined. The problem, as we heard today, is that at least three and possibly five limbs of the Brundtland definition are relevant to planning, and last night an extra one was outlined in terms of a cultural and spiritual one. You cannot operate a legal framework like that. We are looking hard to see whether there is a way of putting a statement into legislation that does not end up—as the noble Lord, Lord Hart, said—as a lawyer’s paradise. I can see that he may very well be encouraged to go back, his eyes gleaming at the possibility of £20 notes falling from the sky. We will look to see whether there is a way of putting it in the Bill without getting into legal hazards, or whether it is better, as I suspect, to put it in the national framework definition. We will commit to dealing with that. The principles of the framework are there and we have discussed them. We recognise that we need to have genuine debate about the detail and we welcome the consultation currently taking place.

I want to touch on a couple of other areas. The presumption in favour of sustainable development applies not only to the economic aspect and the growth of business, though that is what has been focused on. We know that there is also a great demand for housing and that we do not want it sprawling all over new greenfield sites. We therefore already have in the framework a strong commitment to the maintenance of the green belt, to ensure that we do not get the sort of sprawl that people are talking about. The presumption in favour of development is not only for business, it is also for housing. Within the local development plans and local development frameworks there will be a clear indication of where local authorities believe they should develop, the areas they need, the housing they need and their expectation for business growth. That will then be translated down into the neighbourhood forums.

We all recognise that there is some slowness in the planning process. Some 80 per cent of planning applications are largely approved, but that takes time. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, some planning applications need time to be discussed and cannot be rushed through. We still think that if you have a local development plan that is in accordance with the national policy and there are no objections to what has been put forward, then you can probably speed up the process so that planning permissions can be given at an earlier stage. That is basically the presumption in favour of development. It is taking down the barriers but against the background of recognised strong policies.

I also said last night that I have never yet known a planning application that aroused even a smidgen of controversy that did not end up with lots of objections and people insisting on having their views taken into account. That would remain the situation. It could go ahead only if there were no objections and there was nothing in the plans that suggested it should not take place. I think that that is straightforward and I hope that it is clear.

The green belt will remain of great importance. There is discussion in the framework about clear commitments to it. The point about brownfield sites has been raised by many noble Lords today, and there is a clear view from the Government that the brownfield previously developed sites should be put to the fore and developed first. The noble Lord, Lord Rogers, pointed out, from the experience of places such as Manchester, that you can get a lot of good development in an area that has been previously developed or just left for some reason. We totally agree with that; it obviously makes sense, because it does not take up new land and does not extend the sprawl. That is not clear in the national framework at the moment but there is a consultation coming and somewhere along the line it will be, because it is very important.

My noble friend Lord Goschen was a little more critical of the plan than some others, but he was talking about housing. Local authorities will have to have an indication of the housing they need, where it should go and what the requirements are, because we will have to develop housing elsewhere, particularly for local areas and local communities. The essence is that we should have sufficient housing, particularly in the country, for people who want to live there and want to stay there; that is something that we very much take into account. There will be areas in the country where you can build small developments and where the community right to build will have an effect, in that people will be able to put forward projects for small developments and thus help to keep local communities alive. None of us wants to see the death of villages or of communities that live in the country. We need farming and we need to keep people in the countryside to do that, but we also need thriving communities that protect the countryside for us, not just farmers but young people, otherwise it will die.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, were critical about the language of the NPPF. That has been heard and we will see, as the plan is produced, whether we can improve on it.

I have not touched on the concerns of my noble friend Lord Reay about the provision of windmills and energy. While there might be some smidgen of sympathy here, the department and anyone else who is interested in windmills may not be quite so enthusiastic.

That brings me to an end. I am grateful for all noble Lords’ comments. I apologise if I have not touched on all the issues, and they will have note taken of them. I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who was a very substantial planning Minister during his time, and I very well remember him giving up his brief and saying, I think, “Oh, this is rubbish”. I hope that my brief has not been quite that, and I look forward to the debates in the House on Monday, and I hope very much that we will be able to continue the discussion on 27 October.

My Lords, I am most grateful to everybody who has participated in this debate. The message is one of a revising Chamber; the expertise that you would not have in the other place has been on display here today among everyone, and in particular in the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, with his massive experience around the world as well as in this country, in chairing the Urban Task Force. I am incredibly grateful.

There are two conclusions: one, that the countryside is not under threat and, two, that virtually everybody without exception has taken up the issue of brownfield. It is not mentioned in the document. The abolition of brownfield-first is referred to in the impact assessment; that is where the danger is. But by definition, adopting the brownfield first, without being too rigid, is a lifeboat for the Government and for the policy, because it actually assists in developing cities and in the arguments with those who claim that the countryside is being concreted over. It is not going to be.

Motion withdrawn.

Universities: Impact of Government Policy


Moved by

To call attention to the impact of government policy on universities; and to move for papers.

My Lords, I remind the House that the next debate is also time limited. With the exception of the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and my noble friend Lady Verma, all speeches are limited to six minutes.

My Lords, it is a privilege to introduce this debate on a topic of such importance to the future of the country. This is a Labour-sponsored debate, and I am a Labour Peer, but I speak here primarily as an educator who has spent virtually the whole of his adult life in universities and was for some while the head of a major university institution. As such, I feel deep disquiet about the Government’s policies, as I did about the Browne report on which those policies are based.

Universities are not just an extension of school; they are not some sort of finishing school for a group of privileged individuals to get into good jobs. All universities combine research and teaching; they are centres of creativity and innovation, which have a massive impact on the society at large. This impact is in some part economic; universities in this country have a turnover of something like £30 million—in other words, about one-third of the size of that gigantic institution, the NHS. They create about 750,000 jobs and are often integral to the local community’s economy of which they are a part.

However, I stress strongly that their impact goes well beyond the economic sphere. Universities have an extraordinarily far-reaching impact on our civic life and our culture. They are important for teaching citizenship and diffusing norms of citizenship, for technological innovation and the arts and culture in our society. Universities in this country rank very highly in world terms; according to the Times Higher Education Supplement listing of world universities, we have three such universities in the top 10 and 12 in the top 100, second only to the United States. Our universities are a massive source of attraction for overseas students, in which again we are second only to the US in world rankings.

I stress strongly that the attraction of British universities to overseas students is not simply a matter of economics. Of course, it brings a lot more money into the country, but it is really important to recognise that our large number of overseas students has a tremendous impact on the countries they come from when they go back to them. They carry with them their experience of this country and its institutions. They normally carry with them an affection for this country, and they form a kind of friendly worldwide diaspora. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the LSE, an institution of which I used to be the director.

My point in saying these things is not simply to praise universities; it is to argue that these points are crucial to understanding the flaws in government policy. Universities are, above all, public institutions with a massive public impact. As with the National Health Service, the Government seem to be carrying out policies of a sort of ill-considered, untutored radicalism that is not based on in-depth research and with imponderable outcomes. In both cases, these are real-life experiments with little supporting research to back them up. No other country will have a health system structured along the lines that are being proposed for the UK. For universities, Britain—or, rather, England, given the exceptions applying to Scotland—will be a global outrider. It will have one of the very lowest levels of public support for the university system in the industrialised world. That includes the United States. When people think of American universities, they often think of the private universities, which are indeed very important, but they educate only a minority of American young people. Public and state universities in the US are very much larger, and have a confirmed and continued public role in American education.

The Government are fond of saying that the Browne report was commissioned by Labour, and then saying, “Ha ha ha, what would you have done?”. Well, I am not primarily a politician, I am an educator, but here is what I would have done; and I hope that, had Labour been in government, it is what they would have done. I would have had four parts to a framework for the future of universities. First, I would have denied and rejected the ideological thrust of the Browne report, which seems quite alien to what universities are all about. Universities are not a sort of supermarket where education can be chosen like a washing powder off the shelf. Students are not simply consumers, making day-to-day purchasing decisions. They will make a one-off decision. The whole apparatus of a marketplace in which you have consumer-led enterprise seems alien to what universities are and should be about.

Secondly, fees should have been increased progressively, not in the big-bang fashion in which they trebled overnight, with dramatic consequences for the young people affected. Thirdly, as a consequence, I would have preserved a larger chunk of state funding, precisely because universities are public institutions with a massive impact that goes beyond the simple experience of learning as such. Finally, if I had been either a petty dictator or in the right position in the Labour Government, I would have given far more thought to the knock-on consequences of university reforms for job creation and growth, as well as for the wider culture of the country.

This leaves me with a range of questions for the Minister, and I hope that she will respond fulsomely to every single one. They flow more or less from the analysis I have just presented. First, there is a convergence between government policy on universities and government economic policy. A cut is not a cut unless you work out its knock-on implications for employment, welfare spending and growth. The same applies to a massive transfer from public to private funding, which is characteristic of the Government’s proposals for universities. I ask the Minister what modelling has been done of these knock-on consequences. If it has been done, where can I find it? Without it, we simply do not know what the consequences of the reforms will be.

Secondly, the Minister for Universities, Mr David Willetts, wrote a justly well regarded book, The Pinch, a little while ago about the relationship between the generations. In it he argues persuasively that the older generation has accumulated most social and economic resources unto itself, and the younger generation in our society is hence excluded from many of the benefits monopolised by older people—the majority of people above age 40 or 50, or the “baby boomers” as he calls them. Will the Minister tell me how the reforms are compatible with this approach? Loading up massive debt on the younger generation seems to be exactly the opposite of what Mr Willetts is arguing that a just society should be: one where the older generation, being more affluent, helps to support the younger generation.

Thirdly, although Mr Willetts denies this, the arts, humanities and social sciences are especially vulnerable as a result of government reforms, and I speak as a social scientist myself. This will be especially true in middle to lower-level universities. It is difficult for me to see that, when you load up fees so quickly, many students will turn away from subjects that do not have a clear vocational outcome, especially in the lower-level universities. The top universities will do all right; most people want a degree from those universities because it confers market advantages. When you get lower down the system, you have to ask whether students will incur a debt of £30,000 or £40,000 to read history at a university that is, say, 75th in the British league of universities. This is very much open to doubt.

I therefore see government policies potentially producing chaotic consequences, and ask the Minister what the Government will do if departments are forced to close. Will they simply accept that? That would involve the loss of an awful lot of irreplaceable expertise. Suppose student fashion changes two or three years down the line. You cannot simply reinstate those departments. What will the Government do if universities are forced to close down, since some such universities are likely to be in poor, multicultural areas? Are the Government happy that they have a business model in which such universities will simply be forced out of business, with all the consequences for those communities? As I have stressed throughout, universities are not simply a form of economic enterprise. They are crucial for business and the economy, but their functions range so much more widely than that.

Fourthly, the Government seek to contain inequality and promote social mobility in the context of their reforms. However, it is blindingly obvious that these reforms, because of their dramatic nature, will have a negative impact on inequality. This is likely to be so both at the bottom and at the top of the university population. It will surely deter a large number of poorer students from applying to university at all. They will not be covered by the policies that the Government have introduced. It also seems equally obvious that it will increase inequalities at the top, because surely affluent parents will pay off the debts of their children up front, thereby further accentuating the very inequalities among the top levels of our society that we see widening everywhere. Does the Minister disagree that this is almost certain to be the case?

Finally and fifthly, the impact of the immigration cap looks to be seriously damaging to universities, not just in student recruitment but by denying the country the very creativity and academic innovation that are the lifeblood of the university system. On 3 October, a group of Nobel prize winners in the sciences wrote a letter to newspapers about the effects of the immigration cap, in which they said that it is a sad reflection of our priorities that it looks as though Premier League footballers might get exemptions whereas high flying academics might not. However, this is a much more serious issue than that statement implies, because if we look at the history of our universities and our national intellectual culture we see that migrants have played an absolutely fundamental role in science and other areas of university thinking and research. If such people can no longer come, we are simply shooting ourselves in the foot. I repeat what the Nobel prize winners said—it is a sad reflection of our priorities.

I hope that other noble Lords will pursue issues that, for the purposes of time, I have not had the chance to cover. There are many of them.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for instigating this debate. However, I take very gentle issue with his memory of the past Labour Government’s higher education policies, given his statement that he was concerned about the speed with which the coalition Government have implemented some of the reforms. It seems to be forgotten that the Labour Government introduced tuition fees in the first place a year after Tony Blair had promised not to do so in 1997, and that the same thing happened again as regards the introduction of top-up fees two years after they had promised not to do so in the 2001 Labour manifesto. They also commissioned the Browne review. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, said in March in this very House that had Labour still been in government it would have needed to double tuition fees at the very least, given the financial situation in which we find ourselves.

It is no secret that had the Liberal Democrats won the general election, we would have done things differently. However, I am proud of the coalition agreement which incorporated more than two-thirds of our manifesto pledges. Unfortunately, tuition fees policy fell into an area that remains unfulfilled, not least because of the size of the deficit and the need to reduce it firmly and to get the UK back to financial balance. However, following careful negotiations, the system with which we have ended up is significantly more progressive than the Labour system we inherited. That is not only our view but that of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. There are no upfront fees for students so that should not deter them from applying. Graduates will start to pay only when they can afford to, once they are earning £21,000 and there will be lower lifetime contributions for the poorest group of students compared with the system that Labour left behind. Importantly, there will also be more support for the Cinderellas of the higher education and further education systems, part-time students—now 40 per cent of our undergraduates—who had previously been shamefully shunned by the Government in a system geared entirely towards full-time students.

I always felt it was iniquitous that the previous Government did not provide any access to loans for fees for part-time students, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds and stay at home in order to study. However, there is an anomaly that I have raised with the Minister in the Education Bill where it is proposed that part-time students should start to repay their loans from the April three years after they commence studying, if their earnings reach £21,000. As I said in Committee on the Education Bill the other day, while I think this is probably a fairly small group of students, I know from my experience in higher education that mature students often make the decision to study while continuing to work part time. While an income of £21,000 sounds like a good deal for a 21 year-old, it is not a high salary for someone with home and family responsibilities to juggle alongside their study. I worry that this may deter some excellent prospective students from taking up their places on courses. There is also the fundamental question of equity. A full-time student undergraduate on a four-year course, whether an engineer or a linguist, will not be asked to start repaying until their course ends whereas part-time students are being asked to start repaying at three and a half years, regardless of whether they are close to finishing their course or not.

I had some involvement with Aimhigher in my previous role as the executive director of the Association of Universities in the East of England, and while I regret its demise—it has done some good work—I welcome the clearer direction on universities to actively target students from backgrounds where they may not have previously considered a university education.

For me a surprising element of the White Paper Students at the Heart of the System was the proposals regarding extra places for those HEIs taking students with AAB or equivalent qualifications. It seems to me that this may have a law of unintended consequences, with the possibility of bidding wars, and a real impact on recruitment for some of the middle-ranking universities. I hope that I am wrong. I give an example. Certain specialist courses such as medical or pharmacy courses might well be affected if numbers fluctuate fairly strongly in either direction. We are discovering that it is fairly easy to close down a university department but I know from experience that it takes a very long time to build up expertise, plan and then implement a new department. It is not always possible therefore to respond as quickly as is the case with more straightforward courses at, for example, a further education establishment. The impact on medical and healthcare education could be quite serious.

Today I have received a letter from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, who is unable to be in his place. He writes wearing his professional hat as an academic at Leicester University about the difficulties that universities are having with the UK Border Agency in recruiting international postgraduate students who are partly funded by being employed by their host university and partly by bursary. In a bizarre decision, UKBA is now refusing to accept a university's guarantee that it will be paying that salary and maintenance grant, and so the students are being refused entry visas. This has long been a perfectly acceptable way of making up a package for postgraduate students which benefits both the student and the university in the short and the longer term. As a result, the university now finds itself short of teaching assistants. UKBA accepts guarantees from overseas governments and foreign institutions but not our own class one universities. I hope that the Minister will be able to find out more about this for the House and report back in due course.

Finally, I welcome the coalition Government’s focus on improving and widening participation. Funding provided by the Higher Education Funding Council has already enabled the Open University to attract 20 per cent of its newest students from the 25 per cent most disadvantaged communities. I hope that these priorities, and, indeed, the funding streams that support them, remain in place beyond 2012, as this work in delivering real results for individuals, universities and this country as a whole must continue.

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that this is a time-limited debate. When the clock hits six you have had your six minutes.

My Lords, we are dealing with a world where the giants of China and India are surging ahead. How will a tiny country like ours compete? I have built a business from scratch and I have always tried to focus on core competences and unique selling propositions. Even when I have nearly lost everything on three occasions, when you have had to cut costs to survive and adapt or die, the one thing you never cut is your core competence because that is what enables you to survive, grow and compete. One of the utmost core competences of the United Kingdom, the jewel in our crown, is our higher education system. As we have just heard, on any ranking we have four out of the top 10 universities in the world—after the United States we are No. 1—including Oxford and Cambridge. We have ancient universities and modern universities. I was chancellor of Thames Valley University for five years and proud of it. It is now the University of West London. At the other end of the spectrum, I hold four positions at Cambridge, my old university. We are to elect a new chancellor this weekend.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for initiating this debate. I agree with a lot of what he said and will reinforce it. This Government’s decision to cut public expenditure is absolutely right. It has been far too high, approaching 50 per cent of GDP.

It is cutting away at the Government’s call for us all to be in this together. The Government are using a broad-brush approach to cutting expenditure when they should be much more selective. Why did they have to cut university teaching funding by 80 per cent? Why, as a result, did they have to force student fees to increase nearly threefold to £9,000? The average fee is going to be £8,200. The Government’s higher education White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System and the review of my noble friend Lord Browne on higher education funding are all very well. My noble friend produced an excellent report, but he was conned. That report was used by the Government as a way of cutting higher education funding, as a result forcing the fees to go up by nearly three times.

There is a basic misunderstanding about the starting point, which is that we as a country spend between 1.2 per cent and 1.3 per cent of our GDP on higher education, while the United States spends 3 per cent. The OECD average is 1.5 per cent and within the United States, as we have heard, public spending is more than 1 per cent. So we should not have cut higher education spending, we should have maintained it, increasing and encouraging more funding from student fees, philanthropy and the private sector. That is what we have not done.

Universities generate £60 billion of revenue, £12.5 billion from foreign students. This is phenomenal. They employ 700,000 people, a workforce that benefits the whole country. It is wrong to say that the public who do not go to university should not pay for those who do go. Those who leave university benefit the whole country and its competitiveness. What the White Paper completely neglected was postgraduate studies, Masters and PhD research. The Government have frozen funding. They have not cut it, although they have done so in real terms. We spend 1.7 per cent of our GDP on research, while the United States spends 2.7 per cent. How can we compete and continue to punch above our weight when this is the situation?

Students will leave higher education with loans repayable over 30 years. It is a noose around their necks. Is this the way to encourage wider access? Is it not going to deter students going to university, particularly as we have heard, those from poor backgrounds? Also, what about the burden of these loans on the Exchequer? Many indications say that the taxpayer would have been better off by keeping funding for university teaching and not providing long-term loans, which are expensive.

We are letting down our universities and the Immigration Rules do not help. I sit on the advisory board of Cranfield School of Management, where I am an alumnus, and we have noticed a drop in foreign students, particularly those from India. Anecdotally we hear comments from students from India, asking: “Does Britain want us any more?”. Do we not want to attract the brightest and the best from the world? As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, there is far more to it than the fees that foreign students bring in. There is also the soft power and the generational links. My grandfather came to university in this country. My mother did and so did I and that will carry on for generations to come.

What about philanthropy? At Cambridge, to celebrate our 800th anniversary, we raised £1 billion. That is what we can do. What about access? Thames Valley University has so many part-time students, and I am delighted that there is to be funding of part-time students. It is wonderful news and I congratulate the Government. The Open University has been doing great work in this area for years.

We are being penny wise and pound foolish, trying to save £2 billion in teaching funding when the cost of running the Department for Work and Pensions, whose expenditure is £200 billion a year, is also £2 billion. I was privileged to write the foreword to Big Ideas for the Future, published by Universities UK and Research Councils UK. This is a publication of more than 200 world-changing research initiatives coming out of our universities, in health, humanities, business, high-tech, energy, food and drink. These are transforming this country and the world. This is what our universities produce and they enable us to be the best in the world: in high value-added manufacturing, engineering, design and creativity. These are the things that put the “great” into Great Britain and come from the foundation of our universities. By cutting university funding and deterring access to universities, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

What about this ivory-tower mentality of trying to create a market? Who are the Government trying to fool? What nonsense is this? We need a balanced education in humanities, science and the arts and in every way. If we are to provide a balanced higher education, we need a balanced economy and society.

We are tampering with something very precious and I urge the Government to reconsider what they have done, not just in the interests of our students, nor of our universities, but in the best interests of this country to enable us to compete in the future.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Giddens for initiating this important debate. I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I agree, I think, with every word of his speech and I shall follow some of his themes. I have two non-remunerated interests to declare: I am an honorary fellow of my old college in Oxford and I am also a fellow of the University of Worcester, which in recent years has been Britain's fastest-growing university. There was an interval of 850 years in the start of teaching at these two universities, but each is an important member of the British higher education sector and both are being badly affected by government policies.

I can think of no other part of the United Kingdom economy where organisations are fined for being popular and successful. I wonder how many people realise that not only are the Government next year withdrawing 10,000 people from universities altogether and putting a further 20,000 into a competition, they will also fine universities £3,700 for each student they recruit over the so-called control number. That is despite the fact that more than 200,000 people were unsuccessful in securing a university place both last year and this year.

Quite apart from the distress and disappointment that this policy will cause for individual students and their families who had set their heart on a university career, this is an incredibly short-sighted policy for the British economy, particularly with unemployment for 18 to 24-year olds having reached almost 1 million. The CBI is predicting that by 2017, 56 per cent more jobs will require people to hold graduate-level qualifications, while the demand for people with no qualifications will fall by 12 per cent.

To say that the Government are sending mixed messages is a huge understatement. On the one hand they appear to be saying that student numbers can be switched on and off like a tap, according to national economic conditions at the time. On the other, they are telling parents and young people that a university education is such a great investment that it is worth taking on huge piles of debt to cover the tuition fees that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, are nearly tripling to up to £9,000 from September next year.

The truth is that by investing in students and in universities, you are investing in the country's future. Fewer graduates are unemployed, compared to people without a degree, they are generally more productive, they are more likely to start new businesses, gain professional qualifications, and provide more employment for others and, over a lifetime, they will earn more and pay more tax.

The assertion that there are too many students and too many universities is nonsense. I get very angry when people talk about Mickey Mouse degrees from some of the newer universities. Let me give the House just one statistic from the University of Worcester, still a new university and, as I said, the country's fastest growing. Last year 93 per cent of its graduates went straight into jobs—putting Worcester ahead of its rather grander Russell group neighbours, Birmingham and Warwick. It has even done better in this regard than my own university of Oxford.

I will say a word about just two subjects, nursing and midwifery, although there are others I could mention. Before the general election, David Cameron promised to increase the number of midwives in England by 3,000. He described them as “overworked and demoralised”. The University of Worcester has a really successful nursing and midwifery school. The Nursing and Midwifery Council rated the university's provision as “good”, the best possible grade, in all five areas of its annual monitoring review, particularly noting that the university attracts excellent applicants to train in midwifery. The 30 per cent rise in applications in 2009-10 was followed by another 30 per cent rise in 2011. There are now 40 applicants per place for midwifery and more than 10 per place for nursing.

In partnership with the hospitals, trusts and healthcare providers, the University of Worcester is the only educator of midwives in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. The quality is excellent and it gives thousands of mothers and their babies the best possible professional help before, during and after childbirth. You would have thought that the authorities would wish to build on that success and provide for growth in the number of places, especially given the Prime Minister's pre-election promise and the call by the Royal College of Midwives for an additional 5,000 midwives to be trained. The college says that that is necessary because services are at breaking point and both the quality of care and the safety of mothers and babies are threatened.

What has happened? The number of midwifery places the university is commissioned to offer has been cut by the strategic health authority from 52 in 2009-10 to just 45 in 2010-11 and 47 in 2011-12. Nursery places were reduced by 40, from 228 in 2010-11 to 188 in 2011-12 and the same percentage cut of 17.5 per cent has been applied to nursing for all universities in the West Midlands. That makes no sense at all. Cutting university places is short-sighted and it is damaging the country's economic recovery. The cap on student numbers has to be removed and those universities that wish to plan for growth and can demonstrate that they are popular and successful must be allowed to grow.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for introducing this very important debate on a hugely important subject. I declare an interest as the principal of Jesus College, Oxford.

As has already been said, the UK university sector is an outstanding success. In fact, it has been said that it is second to the United States. Actually, that is not quite right. If you correct for population size and investment—remember the United States invests 15 times as much as the United Kingdom in universities—we have three times the success rate, relative to investment, in the world’s top 20. If you go farther down the league table, the story is the same. In short, our top universities are not just globally outstanding, but, as a whole, our university sector offers unparalleled value for money—three times as much value for money as the American system.

Given that extraordinary success story, it might be thought that the Government’s attitude would be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but the university sector is being thrown into a period of unparalleled turmoil, change and challenge. Why is that? One motive, which has already been referred to, is to reduce the deficit in public expenditure by transferring costs from the public purse to the private purse. As has been pointed out in this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, the supposed saving is purely an accounting trick to get costs off the balance sheet. There is no long-term saving to taxpayers. The second motive is to create a market—or supermarket, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said—with students browsing as customers and universities responding by diversifying and improving their product range.

I happen to support greater diversity among higher education institutions, but is the market really a market? It turns out that many universities will charge the same £9,000 fee, so the market is not as diverse as the Government had hoped. At the same time, it is not a free market but a tightly regulated market, in terms of price, numbers and the distribution of the customer base. In short, the policy is a muddle.

As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has already mentioned, the arrangements will have unintended consequences. Let me give you an example. The Government have said that they are keen to encourage more students to study science, engineering and mathematics—the so-called STEM subjects—but do not forget that those degrees take four years to complete and, therefore, the new arrangements with £9,000 a year loans will very likely discourage people from studying them. As I have discovered in my own university, for those universities that charge £9,000, because of the way in which the HEFCE funding formula works and in spite of the premium of STEM subjects, there will be a shift away from funding STEM subjects towards the humanities. I would like to ask the Minister whether those consequences are regarded as positive benefits of the new arrangements for funding.

The White Paper, published earlier this year, is remarkably quiet about graduate students’ education. Another unintended consequence that I can envisage is that students, finishing their undergraduate degree in a STEM subject, with perhaps £45,000 worth of loan, will not be encouraged to go on and take a postgraduate degree, which is essential for many of the jobs that we need to fill in science, engineering and other technical subjects. Does the Minister agree that the new arrangements will have knock-on effects for postgraduate education? Can she explain, more generally, what the Government’s approach to postgraduate education is in light of the new arrangements?

I now want to turn briefly, as it has already been mentioned, to the subject of international students. I speak with a personal perspective here because my father was an immigrant to this country as an academic and went on to win a Nobel Prize. He also contributed hugely to UK scientific research. We have already heard that UK universities are significant contributors to exports—Universities UK estimates a figure of £5.3 billion in 2007-08. In my own university, Oxford, 32 per cent of the teaching staff, 47 per cent of the research staff and more than 52 per cent of graduate students are from outside the United Kingdom. Our fastest growth area is for graduate students from China and India. That mobile talent comes to the UK because of the outstanding reputation of our universities. Not only do they come here to be educated, but, when they go home, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, they exercise great influence in their own countries, which can lead to future trade links of immense benefit to this country.

However, the present immigration controls and settlement restrictions under consideration will do great harm to the competitiveness of our universities. Recent figures from the Russell group suggest drops of between 20 and 80 per cent in the numbers of applicants from Asian countries. Our competitors in other countries are absolutely delighted that we are shooting ourselves in both feet by making it harder for our great universities to attract overseas talent.

I close by quoting from the former Poet Laureate, John Masefield, who once said,

“There are few things more enduring than a University. Religions may be split into sect or heresy; dynasties may perish or be supplanted, but for century after century the University will continue, and the stream of life will pass through it, and the thinker and the seeker will be bound together in the undying cause of bringing thought into the world”.

I hope that the current Government will support, rather than destroy, these enduring institutions.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. First, I declare an interest as chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire.

Many noble Lords have already touched upon causes for concern about government policies and their impact on universities. I wish to concentrate on two particular aspects central to the White Paper published in June that worry me greatly. These are the proposal to fund through a “core and margin” model and the proposal to relax the criteria for degree-awarding powers and hence university title. We are told that the White Paper will create greater competition for university places and will enable more students to go to the university of their choice, but the reality is very different. The reality is that the distribution of funding for universities will be more closely aligned with the A-level results of students. Universities that ask for A-level grades of AAB will become better resourced than those that provide access for less advantaged students.

The Government are creating a higher education system that will reinforce existing social inequalities. Affluent school leavers from well-resourced schools have far better chances of gaining AAB grades than those from less advantaged backgrounds. The universities they will attend will also now be much better funded than others. Where is the Government's much vaunted goal of social mobility in this proposal?

The “core and margin” model will create a pool of 20,000 student places that only those higher education institutions that charge an average tuition fee of less than £7,500 will be allowed to compete for. This is intended to enable new providers to enter the higher education system and to stimulate competition. It is an approach that acknowledges the price of everything, but the value of nothing. This philosophy of “pile them high, sell them cheap” represents a race to the bottom. This policy will force universities that admit students with lower entry grades to reduce their fees below the level at which the Treasury decided the loans system should be funded. In effect, it cheapens and degrades the prospect of those students who are not fortunate enough to achieve high A-level grades. It provides a take-it-or-leave-it bargain basement. Again I ask: where is the Government’s goal of social mobility in these proposals?

My second cause for concern is that the Government propose to amend the criteria for degree-awarding powers. The White Paper contains a proposal to grant university title to organisations that provide no teaching or research. How can that be? Is it right, and in the long-term interest of our students and our society, to encourage providers that operate in the shareholder, rather than in the public, interest to access UK university title and taxpayer-backed investment?

Let me illustrate the point with my own university. The University of Bedfordshire has a board of governors, all of whom are unpaid, with many from FTSE 100 companies. Like other universities, we compete for UK students and trade internationally, backed by the global reputation associated with the standards and the quality which we must deliver under the current criteria for university title. We undertake near-market research and research that is acknowledged to be internationally excellent, and we promote a knowledge exchange with local businesses and international companies. Some 99 per cent of our students are from state schools; 35 per cent of our students are from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups; 43 per cent of our students are over 24 when they enter university; and 60 per cent of our students qualify for the full state maintenance grant, meaning that they come from families with incomes of less than £25,000 a year. The University of Bedfordshire contributes £300 million to the local economy and, beyond any monetary value, we contribute to aspiration and social cohesion. We do all of these things because we are run in the public interest.

I am not in favour of a closed shop. However, I am in favour of the UK retaining the current criteria for teaching and research degree-awarding powers, and I am utterly opposed to the reputation of the UK’s universities being irrevocably damaged by lowering the bar for degree-awarding powers.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for this debate. It is very timely, coming as it does 12 months after your Lordships debated the Browne proposals. When I spoke in last year’s debate, I said that the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Browne, would be a further acceleration towards the privatisation of tertiary education. I said that, while it would not be my preference, it is perfectly rational to have a free, untrammelled market in higher education, or to maintain the “mixed economy” that has been the main operating principle followed by successive Governments during the last half of the 20th century. The worst of all worlds would be to have a largely privatised system subject to bouts of ministerial interference.

I predicted that the consequences of the Browne proposals would be the adoption of a spate of rationalisation and consolidation schemes in both top and bottom-tier HEIs. That is already happening: north of the border, Glasgow has announced the abolition of courses in Czech, Polish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Catalan, leaving only Spanish and French as the modern languages it offers. This was reported in the Independent on 24 April. In the Guardian of 3 May it was reported that London Metropolitan University, itself the product of a merger, intended to axe two-thirds of its courses, including history and philosophy. This is only the start of the latest round of closures; previous years witnessed the abolition of many chemistry departments and the total demise of any fully fledged nuclear engineering provision. The process will continue and gather pace in the coming years.

Leaving individual universities to decide what they do means that the overall pattern of English university provision will not be based on any coherent strategy. As I said by way of example, how many departments of palaeontology should there be? At least one, presumably, but that is by no means guaranteed in the current haphazard and fragmented state of decision-making. David Willetts claimed in the Guardian on 20 September last that his policy was in line with,

“all three major postwar reports”—

Robbins, Dearing and Browne. This is an absurd contention: the Robbins committee had a very wide remit to review the entire system across the UK, whereas the other two were much more circumscribed, being limited to financing and fees without regard to any other consequences. David Willetts was not comparing like with like.

Not that that is his only failing; there are many to choose from. First, he forecast that relatively few universities would charge the maximum permitted fee of £9,000, whereas a considerable number have already said that they will, including a number of second-tier ones. Secondly, he forecast that while a proportion of graduates—those earning very low salaries—would not have to repay their loan debts, there would be an overall saving to the taxpayer. Reversing the ratio of costs of higher education from 60 per cent public funding with 40 per cent private, to 40 per cent public funding with 60 per cent falling on the individual will not, it now appears, achieve the savings to the Exchequer originally predicted. Mr Willetts got his sums wrong. With average fees of £8,678 per annum, this will lead to a shortfall of £450 million by 2014, as reported in the Guardian of 21 April. A similar calculation came earlier from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Will the Minister, in winding—I have given notice of this request—please state what the current DBIS estimates are of the savings that will accrue to the public purse by 2014 and will she provide the data that support such calculations? These are crucial statistics that must be updated and published on a regular basis. Furthermore, it is clear that large numbers of graduates will remain in debt for most of their working lives. Mr Willetts was accorded the sobriquet of “two brains” some years ago; a ratings agency might reasonably now reassess this assessment.

There are further problems. First, the rate of return on a first degree has declined. The lifetime earnings premium that went with a degree is now much less than it was. Secondly, the world recession has seriously reduced the prospect of graduates securing well paid careers. It is no wonder that many school leavers are questioning the value of going to university. A decline in HE participation rates is predicted by vice-chancellors and UCAS. Furthermore, today’s newspapers are reporting a significant decline in applications to FE colleges from 16 year-olds. The combination of these new factors will lead inevitably to many university closures, mergers or takeovers and certainly to massive reductions in course offerings across the board.

In response to the emerging chaos, Ministers have come up with a number of policy refinements, if that is not too grand a description of the series of knee-jerk reactions they have been forced to turn to. Ministers continue to assert that the new system of fees and loans will be more equitable than the existing one. The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, my right honourable friend Simon Hughes, was co-opted by the Government to improve access. He suggested 10,000 means-tested scholarships of £3,000 per annum to be allocated through schools to bright, disadvantaged pupils, but this will be but a mere sticking plaster. A government advertising programme to explain and promote the new system was also announced, but this and the Hughes proposals will not really tackle the problem. The stark fact is that the new fees/loans scheme is so complicated that it cannot be easily or simply explained and that makes it very bad politics, which further compounds the problems.

The Government need to undertake a thoroughgoing review, on the scale of Robbins, of their HE policies for England, or risk a decline, as many noble Lords have said, in the international reputation of our universities and the quality of the service they give to our citizens. There must also be a radical reordering of our policy priorities, in particular away from military adventurism, so that proper resources can be allocated to our university system. Within the coalition, the Liberal Democrats need to insist on these measures if they are to recover any credibility with the electorate on tuition fees and the costs that fall on individuals who undertake higher education. The chaotic system of English higher education must be addressed and remedial action taken.

I remind noble Lords that when the clock reaches six minutes—there are many academics here and I am sure that they can work this out—they have reached the end of their time. Otherwise, we risk not leaving enough time for the Minister to reply to noble Lords’ questions.

My Lords, I will bear that injunction in mind. It is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Smith. We first met when we were part of the thin red line of vice-chancellors about 15 years ago.

Higher education has been one of the great success stories of modern British history—and God knows there have not been very many. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, how this is demonstrated by the current standing of our universities. The THES table shows that one-third are in the world's top 200. That is three times better than Germany. There are a number of reasons why we have done so well. I am sure that the first is the existence of the block grant. This was a public funding commitment, financed by the Treasury. It gave universities a sense of stability and reassurance, which continued under the previous Labour Government. They introduced tuition fees, but as an addition to funding, not an alternative.

Secondly, universities could plan. They could adapt to changing circumstances. They enjoyed autonomy. The University Grants Committee, founded in 1919 by the greatest of all our Prime Ministers, operated at arm's length, which helped to ensure efficiency of management.

Thirdly, there is a very strong commitment to research excellence. The academic Research Assessment Exercise was overregulatory and had many weaknesses, but it ensured that university teachers kept research as an absolute priority. This has been reflected in our world ratings. One issue I will point out is that the result of ending the binary divide has meant that some of the newer universities have had the same research criteria applied to them that is applied to some of the older universities. I do not believe that to be fair.

The final advantage is a highly personalised teaching system. In my long experience of Oxford tutorials, my average class size was two. Often it was one. By happy chance, that one is sitting in front of me: my noble friend Lord Liddle. I am very honoured that he is there. This is very different from other countries in Europe. We have very much closer contact. I know from my wife's country, France, how remote and impersonal teaching is there.

All these assets are seriously disadvantaged and threatened. The block grant is being substantially replaced by a system of student-based funding, which is alarming and even catastrophic in the humanities and social sciences. No objective test has been applied to show why subjects such as history, the social sciences and foreign languages should be discriminated against in this way. It threatens a fundamental aspect of our universities.

Secondly, universities cannot plan with confidence. The effect of the new system of funding is that universities cannot be sure of the resources at their disposal, particularly when, contrary to ministerial forecasts, almost all are putting up fees to the top level of £9,000. There is deep uncertainty about university finances, though I say to the Minister that universities can also help themselves. The extraordinary stipends paid to vice-chancellors—far higher than anything I ever received—are a disgrace at a time of economic stringency.

There is a serious threat to graduate schools and research. We have heard about many factors, such as the problem of getting overseas students into our graduate schools. We are losing an essential component of universities.

Finally, teaching is being weakened. With cuts in funding, the teacher-pupil ratio is getting worse. I admit that this is not new under this Government; it was happening before. However, it is unfair to students and to some of the newer institutions that are less well financed.

Why is this happening? The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, explained the essence of it. In education, as in the National Health Service, the assumption is that you run a university as a business. You set up a report written by a businessman, and that is what you get. The assumption is that higher education is a market, students are consumers, universities should fulfil business needs and competition will drive up quality. All of these are fundamental misconceptions and not a sound way of determining what universities should teach, how they should mark degrees and the nature of those degrees. It will lead to tension between intellectual toughness and the soft option.

This is the wrong way to promote higher education. When other countries are increasing their funding, we are diminishing ours. Universities are seen as instruments of business and the market economy. It is a crude, philistine approach. We should revert to the policy of all parties—Liberal, Conservative and Labour—for most of the 20th century. We should see university education, as they did, as a public good and the basis of any civilised society.

My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for this opportunity to talk about universities. As all noble Lords have said, they are one of the country's greatest treasures. I have been lucky to spend almost all my working life as an academic, university chancellor, head of an Oxford college and, perhaps most precious of all to me, working with Lord Robbins and his committee to produce his great report. Together with the subsequent Dearing report, it gets to the essence of what universities are about. Of course, it was produced in 1963, when only 5 per cent of youngsters went to university. The committee daringly proposed raising that figure to 15 per cent by 1980. Now we are close to 50 per cent; we have mass higher education. To me, that is something of which to be proud rather than ashamed. It follows the American style, and other noble Lords have spoken about some of the implications.

Nothing can justify the spending review’s treatment of the universities. I wonder whether it has something to do with the fact that it did not come from the Department for Education, which is where higher education should be dealt with, along with everything from nursery schools upwards. That is an organisational point. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and other speakers—above all, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—spoke well about what this means for universities, which are faced with turmoil and muddle from Government and from various reports. There is no doubt that standards are at risk. Some courses and universities will go to the wall, and standards may also face a downward slope from an international point of view.

What makes this doubly unacceptable is that the spending review's cuts came on top of an already underfunded system. It is not as if we were flush and therefore could face it. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, gave us the figures. The essence is that we spend 1.3 per cent of GDP on higher education. The OECD average is 1.5 per cent. The United States spends 3 per cent. It is quite a different world, from which we have much to learn. It was a moment for being positive about universities, on which our future depends in so many ways—the economy, society and so on—rather than setting them on a downward slope. Since others have spoken so well about the finances and the implications and the disquiet that all this justifies, I will confine myself to a couple of other basic points. The first, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, is that within those cuts from the spending review, the priority of cuts—in other words, the negative side—has gone to teaching. Whatever the rest of us may think of the equality of teaching and research as university roles, the spending review authors thought differently. Research has been much more protected and I understand the reasons. I look to HEFCE—where else can one look to?—to ensure that this trend against teaching in universities is halted. It is a very dangerous trend.

Finally, my particular concern is for the humanities, the social sciences and the arts. These are not regarded by today’s leaders as of strategic importance. It may be that they do not earn as much money, and as easily, as the sciences and technology, which I am not going to argue against. Who would? But a lot of people sadly in high places are somewhat anti the humanities and the social sciences and the arts. From the point of view of a civilised country to which I was lucky enough to come many years ago, this is a dangerous trend and I look again at HEFCE to ensure that the humanities are protected.

I still look back—I am sentimental in that respect—to the Robbins days when everything depended on the UGC. I look to the future in which government intrudes much less than now and concerns itself much less with details. Obviously overall funding is a different matter. It is left to HEFCE to ensure that we have a first-class system, as we have now.

I declare an interest as the chancellor of the University of Leeds and another as a fellow of my old college. I join others in thanking my noble friend Lord Giddens for securing this debate, and for all that he has said on the economic side, and my noble friend Lord Krebs. There is nothing left to be said there really; the case has been made, so all my stuff for that has been scrawled out. I might make the six minutes.

The British universities, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, said, have been an extraordinary success since the last war, like the creative industries. They are the two greatest successes in this country, and we meddle with them at our peril. When so much else stagnates or sinks, their success must be supported. That is not being done at the moment. Apart from their academic success and the way they groom this society in the right civilised and cultured direction, they have been social engineers on the very highest scale. They took a 7 per cent intake not many decades ago and turned it into a 45 per cent intake, without breaking down, without disruptions, without strikes and without any of that sort of thing at all. They took it on board. In the process, in my view—from looking round and having something to do with universities—they enhanced the universities; they made the universities better. The great growth that has been talked about by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has come in the last two or three decades since that happened. This is down to dedicated academics and intelligent management. Moreover, in my experience of 10 years at Leeds, the universities foster well-educated, democratic, young, culturally literate citizens whose contribution to our society enriches it and who totally contradict the glib soundbites about a broken society.

In our near future, the knowledge industry and the creative industry could be just as crucial as manufacturing once was, but it needs to be attended to and not assailed as it is at the moment, so when universities complain in measured and temperate terms we should be careful to heed them. Here are a couple of points from the vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, who is also the chairman of the Russell group. On visa changes, the Government have changed student visas—as has been said, but this is a specific instance—to remove the right of international students to work for a year or so after they graduate in the UK. At Leeds this has led to a fall already of 30 per cent in students from India, which was a great source for us in all sorts of ways: socially, culturally and economically. Apparently Indian banks are cutting student loans as post-study is no longer available. The estimated loss in revenue to us at the moment is £1.2 million and rising, quite apart from the loss of influence in national prestige and quite apart, as has been pointed out, from the interconnectedness between India and this country from those people coming here and from our students going over there. As has been said, that is a massive plus that we are jettisoning. I cannot see any sense in it, nor can anyone else I know who has anything to do with the university.

On the question of research, the Government have sought to protect research funding from the full force of the cuts, and for that they must be thanked. They maintain the level funding in cash terms. That sounds okay, but this flat cash is equivalent to a loss of 20 per cent in real terms over the life of this Parliament alone. It has been said—and it needs to be repeated, it seems—that countries such as France, Germany, America, not to mention China, are investing more and more in real terms in research and sciences because they know it works. They know that it delivers. They know that it delivers jobs, wealth and new opportunities. They know that it delivers the future. We are cutting back. We are supposed to be the clever country. We started all this a couple of hundred years ago. I cannot understand what we are about. We will fall behind—obviously we will. This is not good for the growth of the economy, or more generally for our international competitiveness.

We have to recognise that widening participation is a complex issue and we have to resist the tendency to blame the universities for a much wider social problem. The solution has to be compound. As well as effort from the universities, it requires improvements in secondary school performance, increasing student attainment, better advice and guidance for school students, particularly at the age when they choose their A-levels, as well as financial support for those 16 to 18 year-olds who really need it. We have a plan and a strategy at Leeds to encourage that in that neighbourhood of Yorkshire, which is proving to be quite successful. We are doing the same at Oxford.

The universities are essential to our future prosperity because of their ability to change, to invent, to reinvent, to engage the serious mind and to engage in those mind games that now dominate world commerce and world progress. Ideas rule and we have to be there, up with those rulers. There is a book of which I am a great admirer. It is written by the father of my noble friend Lord Evans. It is an early masterful work of oral history called Ask the Fellows Who Cut the Hay, and that is what it means. The fellows who cut the hay in the universities are the vice-chancellors, the professors, the lecturers, the researchers. In my experience, they are men and women, as we have heard, of great international distinction. They are public servants. They are not self-serving or alarmist. What they say has real merit. Your Lordships’ House will, I am sure, listen to them and pass it on. These things are far too important to be meddled with confusingly. They deserve close attention and scrutiny from us. The universities liberate our young people into a future that they deserve to have.

My Lords, I want to draw attention to the impact of government policy on the provision of modern language degrees, and I declare an interest as the chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages. There might at long last be a glimmer of hope that the Government have grasped just how detrimental it would be to allow the teaching and learning of foreign languages to disappear. I warmly welcome the announcement last month by the Foreign Secretary that the decline of language teaching in the Foreign Office would be reversed. As well as reopening the Foreign Office’s language centre and a 30 per cent increase in spending on language teaching, he announced an increase in the number of jobs overseas for which language skills will be an absolute requirement.

In the business world, too, language skills are increasingly required, but UK-educated graduates are finding themselves at a disadvantage in a global labour market alongside their peers from other countries where graduates are more likely to be able to work in two or three languages, including English. Over 70 per cent of UK employers say that they are not happy with the foreign language skills of our graduates and are being forced increasingly to recruit from overseas.

This year, only 1.5 per cent of the 51,000 applicants for EU jobs in Brussels were British, and the obvious explanation is that they simply do not possess the required working knowledge of a second language. The review of university funding carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, concluded that languages should be a strategic priority for public investment. Yet the changes in the funding system threaten the survival of modern languages degrees at just the time when we need to safeguard and strengthen them. Several universities have already cut back or scrapped language courses, including the University of Westminster, which has scrapped its flagship MA in conference interpreting, which had been a key recruitment ground for the native English speakers sought after by the EU and the United Nations. There is a desperate shortage of native English speakers in these services, and I would like to know what support the Government can offer to British students who wish to train as interpreters and translators.

At undergraduate level, the funding problem relates partly to the fact that language degrees are four-year courses, including a year abroad. Without this year, the quality and value of a modern language degree would be severely undermined. My understanding is that the fee waiver to universities for students taking their year abroad will continue for students who started their course in 2011 or earlier, but that after that there is currently no fee compensation built into the plans. Will the Minister review this situation as a matter of urgency, with a view to reassuring universities and prospective students that the fee waiver for the year abroad will remain? Will she also confirm that the specialist PGCE course for language teachers will continue to include funded teaching practice in a foreign country?

Languages, along with the STEM subjects, are defined as strategically important and vulnerable and, as such, receive some additional support, for example through the funding of the routes into languages programmes and the language-based area studies programme. Will the Minister say whether this additional support will continue and how the Government intend to develop their support for languages, given their status as SIV subjects?

Finally, and despite the fact that the Minister is replying today as BIS Minister, I want to draw attention to the important impact that government policy on the school curriculum has on universities, and to ask the Minister whether she will undertake to speak with her colleagues in the Department for Education about the place of modern languages in the national curriculum. Universities cannot produce sufficient numbers of linguists unless schools are producing enough pupils with a language GCSE and A-level. Numbers here are in serious decline. The English bacc has boosted languages in year 9 to a very modest extent, but we will not see the level of improvement we need unless the Government reverse the current disastrous policy whereby languages after key stage 3 are optional.

Restoring modern languages to the core part of the national curriculum until the age of 16, which I hasten to add is not the same thing as forcing every child to do a GCSE in a language, is also important for social mobility because it is, of course, only in state schools that there is such a dramatic decline in modern languages. This is a very good example of how what goes on in schools has a significant impact on what goes on in universities. About a quarter of those applying to do language degrees are from independent schools compared with only about 9 per cent across all subjects. Can the Minister reassure me that she will set up early and focused discussions between her department and the DfE on the way in which language policies across the school and university sectors can be consistent and integrated?

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Giddens for having given us the opportunity to have this important debate today. I have the good fortune to be involved in three very different universities: LSE, where I am active as a governor; Newcastle University, where I am a member of court; and De Montfort University, where I do a small amount of advisory work.

I, like others, find the Government’s policy sad and ill-judged. It is diminishing the concept and ideal of a university and, indeed, of education as an end in itself. It has huge implications for the future of the United Kingdom. What had come to be seen as an inspiring public good—my noble friend Lord Morgan referred to this—in which the nation as a whole could take pride is being ideologically changed into the concept of higher education being all about private benefit. Of course there is a balance to be struck, but that balance is now being heavily weighted in the direction of private benefit. More and more is measured by utilitarian, commercial considerations alone. As for the talk of markets and of students as customers, I find it vulgar. What of the aspiration of a university being a community of scholars?

There are contradictions in the policy of opening up a market by stimulating competition on AABs while at the same time stressing the importance of greater access. Of course we should all want more and more people to have the experience of university, but if we are genuine about this, that means that in our admissions policy we must look for potential that may not yet have had an equal opportunity to express itself in AAB terms. We should be looking for the future Einsteins trapped out there in relatively disadvantaged areas, but not just for Einsteins; we should be looking at the many who could make a powerful contribution to the future well-being of the UK if given the chance to develop intellectually. Many vice-chancellors are concerned that the number of students from disadvantaged areas will inevitably drop in the long run.

I am also concerned about perceived pressures, however much it is argued that there is no logical foundation for them, that lead students to pursue studies leading to a demonstrable and immediate material plus in the marketplace as distinct from the studies that they really want to undertake. This is part of shooting ourselves in the foot. A strong future for Britain will need not just scientific, technological, engineering and vocational skills, but intellectual originality, values and ethics and the perspective and wisdom of the humanities, without which all could repeatedly go terribly wrong. Our recent massive economic crisis is a good illustration of this. In any case, as we build material wealth, we surely know that a society worth living in will not be characterised by its quantity of wealth alone but also by its quality.

The Government’s approach to the funding of arts and humanities is myopic, demoralising and dangerous for our future. What has just been said about languages is another good example. The vindictive approach to the social sciences is totally irrational. Technological and scientific advance generates immense challenge in its social consequences and in the organisation of society. The social sciences deserve priority in funding.

Do we believe in informed, critical citizens as central to a global democracy or not? If we do, the quality and wider life of university are crucially important. By the same token, the policy towards university museums smacks of a short-sighted cheapness—“nasty” is a good way to describe it. We need to see ourselves in perspective, to appreciate the diversity of humanity, to understand from where we came and the context of where we are.

The other evening I saw a TV report on the Conservative Party conference in which the Minister, Mr Hammond, made an impassioned speech about the indispensability and imperative of infrastructure for our future. Exactly the same analysis applies to our universities with their world-leading research—indeed, they are part of that infrastructure. The Minister said that we cannot afford not to make infrastructure a priority. Against the price of Trident, for example, just why has the concept of free education at all levels including university disappeared from the radar screen?

I have one last plea: whatever the merits or demerits of all the activity that the present Secretary of State for Education likes to generate, can the Government please take next year to pause, take stock, and analyse the impact and consequences of their ill-chosen route? It is far too important to be left to ideological fundamentalism.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for initiating this debate. However, I cannot share what I thought was the general pessimism of his contribution. I am the Chancellor of Teesside University and we have to make this new regime work. We cannot afford closures or failures. We have to keep widening access and raising aspirations because the people of our region have a right and a need to continue to grow and develop.

We should absolutely be focusing on ensuring that higher education is funded sustainably; that is, delivering a quality student experience and increasing social mobility. However, there are genuine concerns about mechanisms being proposed that could have very real consequences for universities such as Teesside that are playing the critical role that I have already mentioned. It is of concern to me, as it obviously is to my noble friend Lady Howells, that the “core plus margin” approach might have the unintended consequence of forcing many full-time students away from areas of need and the provision of their choice in high-demand, high-quality institutions, towards provision elsewhere.

We are all aware that there are many complex reasons why students choose the university they wish to go to, yet we are in danger of introducing mechanisms that will vastly restrict this choice through moving numbers to places where there is no evidence of demand. I am conscious of this point particularly in my own area, where Teesside University is the only independent higher education institution in the conurbation. A reallocation of 8 per cent of places leaves nowhere for those qualified students to study. I would add that in areas where moving home to go to university is not an option for many potential students, including many mature students and women returning to study, I worry deeply about this aspect of government policy.

In my Teesside area, we have an excellent further education sector in the context of a partnership with five excellent colleges. It is a partnership of exceptional strength and mutual respect, with a successful track record of providing ladders of opportunity to people across the community served by my university. It is a partnership in which my own university has invested significant sums in building higher education centres on the premises of all the five colleges, and my great concern is that, because of the average fee restrictions such partnerships could be undermined in respect of the founding universities, which have striven to create a genuinely rounded higher education experience in a purpose-built-environment but now will be unable to bid for additional full-time student numbers. I would like the Minister to look at that issue very carefully. I do not believe that that consequence is desired by Ministers, and it is certainly not desired by the principals of the colleges to which I have referred. I would welcome clarification in this regard.

Both Houses have given consent to the new funding regime but my own experience and that of my university is very much that prospective students, their parents and advisers do not yet fully understand that this being free at the point of entry, with enhanced student support and a progressive repayment regime, means that higher education should still be for all those who are qualified to enter. It is my fear therefore that student recruitment in 2012 might not be a realistic indication of the long-term recruitment pattern of a university. I strongly encourage Ministers to ask the HEFCE to maintain student number controls for 2013 at the level set for 2012 so that short-term shortfalls in student participation can be recovered without major and damaging turbulence in the higher education sector.

It is also my expectation that changes in support funding for full-time students will result in a step change in the take-up of part-time and distance learning study opportunities. I hope that the Minister will recognise that significant clarity is yet to be brought to the long-term funding that will support such a crucial part of our higher education landscape.

I want to emphasise that the continued success of universities such as Teesside University in areas of high unemployment is essential, not just for the education of young people and returning learners but also for the economy of the region. In the 10 years since I looked at education with any kind of a serious eye, it has changed dramatically, beyond my expectations. Middlesbrough was a steel town, a shipyard town and full of factories. Now, there are no factories left. In the middle of the town there is now a university, and it is to the university that people look not just for education but for employment.

As the university becomes successful, student numbers will grow and it will get a worldwide reputation. In 2010, it won the award for the best university in the country, against all comers, including, let me say, the Russell group. As it does that, it becomes a focal point for innovation, excellence and jobs growth. We must really understand the importance of these universities for the future. It is about higher education but also about something much more in terms of the economy, jobs and the future of the people who live and work in those regions. I hope that the Minister and her colleagues in the other place will take these things into careful consideration.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for securing this important debate. I declare my interests as a working professor at a Russell group university and an honorary fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. When my noble friend Lord Luce secured a debate on higher education in June 2008, it was before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the onset of the serious world economic crisis, which is obviously still with us. Even at that date, it was clear that the relatively golden era of higher education financing was coming to an end.

In the early summer of 2008, Professor Geoff Crossick, chairman of the long-term strategy group of Universities UK, had already said that a much bumpier ride was on the horizon. He drew attention to the significant underlying demographic and financial trends that were already in play. Although that was true, we do not speak at the moment of crisis in the success of our higher education system. In figures for the past week in the Times Higher Education Supplement, there is no evidence of a decline in UK standings. We can see, for example, that the UK has almost three times as many universities in the top 200 as Germany; more than four times as many as Australia; and more than six times as many as Japan. All that is while spending only 1.2 per cent of GDP on higher education, which is less than the 1.5 per cent average across the OECD.

I had a private bet with myself that before I would speak today at least one noble Lord would make the comparison not with the countries that I have mentioned but with the United States. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Krebs made the point admirably that if you control for population and expenditure, there is a case for saying not that we are second to the United States but that we have a stronger system in higher education. People in the higher education sector want to make that point about America due to a perception of government policy. To use the words of the Minister, Mr David Willetts, in a brave letter in the London Review of Books earlier this year, it is a “crude caricature” that the Government’s approach to higher education is dominated by market fundamentalism plus an infatuation with the US. The fact is that that is how it is perceived within the higher education world.

To add a personal note, about a year ago, the Department for Education asked me to take on an independent review of a very controversial issue in our schools system—SATs testing. I was told that our teachers are very angry about SATs; that it is a very fraught topic; and that I would find it very hard. I accept that there was much tough debate. But my guess is that our university senior common rooms are probably angrier than I found our schoolteachers to be during that long year of reviewing policy in that area. Let there be no doubt that SATs testing was and is a very controversial issue among many teachers. There is a mood of exasperation in common rooms.

Perhaps I may offer some help to the Government in this matter. In this economic context, there is relatively little to be done. We face a serious crisis in higher education. However, there is a question of mode of address. On one area, which is not dominated by the economic question and has already been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—immigration of talent into our country and into our academic system—I have nothing to add to what he so eloquently said.

Let me take another issue: the research assessment exercise, now the REF. It is vital to the competitiveness of our system. The Government are quite right to have such a system in place. I know I speak on these Benches on which we have a number of distinguished philosophers, the impact of whose work is in the public domain. However, to ask, for example, certain branches of philosophy to deliver an impact assessment and to demonstrate a broader public impact is fundamentally unreasonable. What it leads to is meretricious behaviour, the puffing out of CVs and bogus claims by academics—all types of things that the Government quite rightly are very sceptical and critical of. These areas of policy are not determined by the economic crisis. Sensitivity to the particular position of academics would do a great deal to improve the quality of debate because frankly I am concerned about the quality of debate that is flowing between academe, universities and the Government at the present time.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for securing this debate and introducing it with the insight and wisdom that we have come to expect of him. When we discuss education policy, we need to ask ourselves by what criteria are we judging it. In the context of this country, two criteria are absolutely relevant. First, is the government policy likely to safeguard the high quality of our university education and research? As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has already reminded us, we are not just second in the international league, but, allowing for the all the variables, we might come top.

The second criterion that we need to take into account is whether the policy makes this high quality of education and research available to whoever is capable of benefiting from it and maximises the use of talent available in the country? These are the two criteria: does the policy maintain and safeguard the high quality of our education and research and does it make it available to all?

Noble Lords have so far concentrated by and large on the first. I want to concentrate on the second because it is in danger of getting neglected. Fifty per cent of the British population belong to a lower socio-economic background. However, they represent just 26 per cent of university students. Obviously, much work needs to be done at the school level. However, financial considerations also play an important part. If fees are to be paid—and fees are fairly high—they act as a deterrent. As well as introducing high fees, the Government are trying to support people from lower socio-economic backgrounds through the scheme of bursaries. A bursary in a Russell group university comes to something like £1,764. In a million+ universities, it comes to be about £714. These amounts are hardly enough to encourage people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to enter university. Either, therefore, they will not enter the university or they will have to do part-time work in order to maintain themselves, which would badly affect their academic achievement.

I am particularly worried about the national scholarship scheme. The Government have set aside £155 million for helping people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The amount is too small. If the fees are £9,000 a year, the amount will only be able to maintain about 5,500 students. If the fees average at about £7,200, the £155 million would only take care of just under 7,000 students. Contrast this with the fact that last year alone 10,670 students were in receipt of free school meals. The amount of £155 million therefore is not good enough and at best can only guarantee a free first year. I am particularly worried about the impact of this on ethnic minorities, especially Afro-Caribbeans and Pakistanis, because by and large Indians are in a position to take care of themselves.

Huge sums of money have to be repaid as the fees range between £7,000 and £8,000 a year, which comes to around £25,000 for a three-year course. The hope of getting a job and earning around £25,000 a year in order to start repaying the loan is slim in a situation like ours. There is also a great danger that students from the Afro-Caribbean and Pakistani communities might stay away from courses of a longer duration, such as medicine and management. Unwittingly, we may create a situation of occupational apartheid, in that on certain courses you will not see a black face, a face from Pakistan or a Muslim face; that would be extremely dangerous. If we are really concerned to make education available to all and to create a genuine sense of community in our country, those from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds should not have to pay fees at all. If they do have to pay fees, the value of bursaries should be increased, on a rough calculation, to something like £475 million from the proposed £155 million.

As other noble Lords have pointed out, we must recognise that education is a public good. It benefits not only the individual, but also the community at large by raising the quality of life and its consequences in almost all spheres, including which newspapers you read and the television programmes you watch. It is also a prized good in the sense that those who are deprived of it build up resentment and anger, as we have seen from time to time in the kinds of turmoil that have taken place. If it is regarded as a public good and not just as an individual good, and if we see people not just as consumers but as citizens, the public contribution has to be much higher than is currently the case. In the mid-1990s the public contribution to higher education was in the vicinity of 40 per cent to 42 per cent. It began to go down and stands today at somewhere around 32 per cent. If the Government’s policy is carried out, we are told that by 2014-15, the teaching grant to universities will decrease by 60 per cent. That simply cannot be right. If we really value education as we should, the Government contribution must be better than it is.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Giddens for introducing this debate. I declare an interest as the chair of the board of governors of Leeds Metropolitan University, and in a former existence I was Dean of the Business School at the University of Leeds, of which my noble friend Lord Bragg is the distinguished Chancellor. It is a pleasure to follow him today.

It seems that the Government have two objectives in their policy, one largely talked about in the debate—the fiscal objective, ensuring that students pay the full cost of their teaching at university, and the objective of increasing competition. It is not entirely clear whether the intention behind that is to drive down price or to improve quality. Before I go any further I shall say a word about Leeds Metropolitan University by way of background to one or two of my comments. It has some 27,000 students and almost 2,500 staff. It plays a major part in and makes a major contribution to the Yorkshire region, and of course complements the strengths of the University of Leeds, which also has a wide national and international reputation. The university is very important to the region and works closely with employers and industry, as well as with professional associations. It offers a vast range of professional and related degrees.

I sense from our discussions that we do not really know what is going to happen. The Government have increased fees by between 200 per cent and 300 per cent. We all have a view on what might happen, but chairing a board of governors is a bit like chairing the board of a company, and the truth is that we do not know; there is an awful lot of uncertainty. What I can say is that in the universities that I experience, people are getting on with the job. They are not feeling sorry for themselves. They are addressing the challenges and uncertainties and they are preparing for potentially very substantial change, but we do not know what the consequences will be. I will turn to one or two of those now.

I will touch only briefly on students from overseas and India because other noble Lords mentioned it but it is so important. The contribution of overseas students —India is a good example but there are others too—is important not only to our relationships abroad and our business relationships, but it is important to our UK students. It helps them to learn in an international, global environment. They learn an awful lot from international students. It is extremely important for the culture of undergraduate and postgraduate learning. I cannot emphasise how important it is. What assessments have the Government made to date—I realise that it is very early in the ball game—of the impact on Indian students’ entry to our universities this year? In the light of that assessment, if it does reveal a major fall, are the Government open to looking again at policy in that area?

On widening access, it is as plain as a pikestaff to anybody that if you almost triple the price it will affect demand. No matter how you dress it up, somewhere along the line people will pay more, whether now or later in life. The people affected will inevitably be those at the bottom end of the income scale and those from low-aspirational households. I will be delighted if that is not true, but good sense says that it is. I ask the Government again, if good sense turns out to be right, what do they intend to do about that? There is a great deal of hypocrisy about the widening access agenda. You almost triple fees and then you say that you want to widen access. There is a conflict in that and I hope that the Government are open to addressing that issue.

Then there is the question of competition and the introduction of the contestable margin of 20,000 students. Have the Government stated clearly what are the objectives of that policy? What are the measurable outcomes of those objectives so that we can assess whether introducing this contestable margin, the marketplace, is successful or not? If those objectives are not met, what is the Government’s intention? Will the contestable margin of 20,000 be stable for four years? As the energy policy shows, what business, universities and long-term institutions need is confidence in the framework of policy. What will happen to the contestable margin? Will it remain for the rest of this Parliament and can universities plan on that? Universities in operation are not sitting back feeling sorry for themselves, but they want the Government to be willing to address success or failure and to be willing to change policy if some of the worst fears are borne out.

My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Giddens for securing this debate, which has given us a long overdue opportunity to discuss the future of our universities. It has been an excellent debate, with expertise, history and passion, including, in the evocative words of my noble friend Lord Bragg, several thoughtful contributions from the men who “cut the hay”, who we are of course adjured to listen to very carefully.

In that context, it is very sad that we have not had the benefit of contributions from the Conservative Back Bench today. That is obviously a huge vote of confidence in the policies that they are pursuing.

My Lords, it is a reflection of what a hard time the Opposition have given us over the past three days and the general state of exhaustion on our Benches.

My heart bleeds.

In his contribution the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, quoted extensively from John Masefield. In fact he must have been reading my speech over my shoulder, because I was also going to quote John Masefield, although I was going to use a quotation that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, gave about a year ago. There were additional lines from where the noble Lord ended up:

“There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university: a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, went on to say:

“I cannot emphasise enough that our universities are and must remain centres of free thought and discovery, and seats of learning in both the sciences and the arts”.

She confirmed that the Government would,

“never lose sight of the wider purposes of higher education”.—[Official Report, 27/10/10; col. 1222.]

Given what has been said today in this debate, perhaps the Minister could confirm when she responds that this remains the position of Her Majesty’s Government.

What are our universities for? We know, first of all, that the recent report of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Madingley, confirms that we currently have one of the best, and certainly one of the most cost-effective systems of higher education in the world. We can contest exactly where we are in the rankings but we are certainly near the top. As the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, said, like the cultural industries, this is one of the things that Britain does best and it is something that we should cherish. So the first question is whether the changes now being proposed will assist us to retain and improve our higher education system. It is hard to believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, reminded us, that the decision to cut the block grant, to cut science funding by 10 per cent in real terms over this CSR period, to curtail overseas student visas and to make university fees three times more expensive is indeed the right way to build on the presently successful system. Indeed, it may get worse.

As my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids said, the Government’s proposals will undoubtedly create three categories of degree-awarding institutions: an elite group, with almost all their students in the high-achieving category, defined as AAB or better, which will charge headline fees of £9,000 and will be allowed to grow; a large number of perceived second-rank institutions, which will charge £7,500 in order to be eligible to bid for those students that they lose to a pool through the “core and margin” reduction mechanism; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, predicted, a third group of private degree-awarding institutions, FE colleges and others, which will bid at very low fee levels to the pool, but which will have to provide a lot more for less if they are going to survive as universities. The experiences that the third group offer, including shorter programmes and minimal contact time, will not begin to match the experience offered at the other two groups.

If that turns out to be the long-term position, I have grave doubts about whether it will build on where we are today. The Russell Group universities—though not all of them—will prosper, but these changes clearly threaten the coverage, resilience, capacity and effectiveness of the sector. Like the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, I do not see a growth in the overall contribution that science and technology needs to make to our economy; and it will surely reduce the capacity to civilise our society that several noble Lords mentioned. We cannot rule out some closures of good and long-established institutions, with all that that implies. This strategy could destabilise the higher education sector and damage quality.

Related to this point, several noble Lords have mentioned postgraduate courses, a matter unaccountably omitted from the Browne review and the White Paper. It is of course inevitable that the postgraduate landscape will shift significantly as a result of the withdrawal of most central funding without any compensatory student loan support, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, because of the heavy indebtedness of future undergraduates. The changes in the visa system referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, are also affecting the flow of potential overseas postgraduate students, with a knock-on adverse effect on teaching on undergraduate courses. Urgent work is now needed to develop a response to these pressures, and perhaps the Minister could respond on this point.

My second point is whether the new voucher scheme, which underpins the assertion that students will be at the heart of the system, will deliver a better and more cost-effective system going forward. It may well be that putting the student at the heart of the system—with good information, allowing them to make a rational decisions on what course they want to follow—could create a market in undergraduate course provision, and hence improve standards of teaching. The noble Lords, Lord Giddens, Lord Bilimoria, Lord Morgan and Lord Judd, have rather demolished that canard. Even so, it seems to be based on a wrong premise. According to the supporting analysis provided by BIS, high entry qualifications is one of the two key indicators that many universities try to maximise. High entry qualifications enhance an institution’s reputation, which further attracts entrants with high entry qualifications. The result is a large degree of rigidity in the ranking of universities by reputation and prestige. This in turn creates a large number of small markets, with products defined by entry qualifications and subjects, so that each institution or department is effectively in competition with a very small number of others. It is this product differentiation that restricts competition. Most students, after all, will make only one purchase and will not be able to compare different providers directly, and even an improved information system will not entirely compensate for this. In any case, how are prospective students going to get better informed so that, in the words of the White Paper, they will drive teaching excellence,

“by taking their custom to the places offering good value for money”?

This is cod market orthodoxy. But nevertheless, the more students know about what to expect, the better prepared they ought to be.

However, despite appearing to recognise the importance of accurate and meaningful information, the Government proposals do not provide this. The BIS impact assessment says:

“The Government does not have the resources to develop commercial standard information tools (such as consumer price comparison websites) .... so our long-term strategy is to ensure that relevant student data is made available to third party providers, so that they can turn the raw data into meaningful information, innovatively presented”.

Don’t you just love that “innovatively presented”?

Perhaps we can persuade the Government to think again on this point. I cannot see that British analogues of what is already on the market will take the trick here. Take, for example, the US-produced ratemyprofessors, a website which boasts that it has 10 million student comments, and no doubt a huge hit list. Promoted,

“as a fun way to choose the best courses and professors”,

it includes ratings of a professor’s appearance as “hot” or “not”, and ratings of “easiness”—said to be useful for finding a module which will not involve hard work. David Mease, of San Jose State University, currently tops the list with a 4.8 score out of 5 and, you might not be surprised to know, a chilli pepper for “hotness”. There is no photo so I cannot enlighten the House further, but you get the message. For completeness, Brigham Young University, with an average professor score of 3.62 out of 5, tops the college lists. Surely this is not the way to go.

My third point, which has been widely raised already in the debate, is about social mobility. The new methods of allocating resources and controlling student numbers look likely to reinforce relative disadvantage rather than remove it. The removal of the need to pay fees up front for both full and part-time courses, the provision of maintenance loans, and the bursaries and scholarships that may be available to students from low-income backgrounds, should make participation in higher education a more attractive proposition—I accept that. On the other hand, and crucially, we simply do not know whether, and to what extent, the likely assumption of increased debt will reduce participation in general, and by those from low-income backgrounds, women and ethnic minorities in particular. As my noble friend Lady Howells said, the effect of the “core and margin” system will be very likely to create a race to the bottom, bringing in third-tier institutions that are much less attractive to students, which is where many students from disadvantaged backgrounds will end up, because, as we have heard, they are less likely to have good qualifications and will be obliged to accept a place at a third-tier institution; or if they are unwilling to do that, will miss out on higher education completely.

The impact of Government policies is making the future of our universities very uncertain. As we have heard in this high-quality debate today, the restructuring of university funding, which passes the state’s contribution largely on to the student, undermines the compact between student, state and employers that has long been the basis for our university system.

Universities are not an extension of school or, as my noble friend Lord Giddens said, utilitarian providers for people to receive training in the limited range of disciplines for the workplace. They have other noble missions which, to our mind, requires that the state ought to be a major stakeholder in higher education, not merely a provider of off balance-sheet loans at penal rates of interest.

Whereas the Government’s early rhetoric, and clear ideological preference, was to rely on market forces and students exercising choice to create competition that would hold down fees, these aspirations have had to be emasculated in favour of a much more direct control over the level of fees that are charged. The result is not a proper market but even heavier-handed state control, effectively controlling how much the majority of universities can charge and how many students they can take.

I predict that there will be chaos and confusion as universities have to make up their minds about how to play the game without knowing the rules. Will the Government keep cutting their core? What further changes will they make to the AAB regime? The arrangements they have introduced, removing a large group and a growing number of students each year from the majority of institutions, is hugely destabilising. They clearly have no regard for the health of a vital component of our public realm.

From what has been said in this debate today it is hard not to feel that we are at the brink of a major experiment in social policy. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, so much of what is being proposed is untested and the impacts unknowable and the costs of what is being proposed are still in dispute. Like the health service, a major reform is being pushed through with very little understanding of the impact it will have on individuals, institutions, intergenerational relationships and society as a whole.

In closing, I make a rather unusual suggestion to my noble friend Lord Giddens. This debate has succeeded in covering the ground in this policy area, and it has also revealed a large number of flaws in the arguments that have been made. I know that part of the process in these debates is to withdraw the Motion, but the second part of the Motion also says that it is moving for papers. It would be jolly interesting to see the papers supporting these policy initiatives. I therefore suggest that he might leave the Motion in place.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for giving this House the opportunity to discuss higher education once again. I feel quite a sense of trepidation, being surrounded by so many learned and well versed noble Lords. Clearly, the contributions that we have heard today from our colleagues, and the universities where they serve, serve this House incredibly well.

The first thing that I emphasise is that the Government value the autonomy and excellence of all our higher education sector. Allow me to quote my right honourable friend the Minister for Universities from last week. He said that universities were,

“amongst our greatest national assets”,

and said how we value how they change people’s lives. He went on to say:

“Our universities must always have space for the free spirit, the eccentric, the blue skies researcher … Without that our national life, however prosperous, would be grey and diminished”.

Universities are not just places of teaching and learning. I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. They are world leaders in innovation and research. Their breakthroughs regularly dominate the news. You may have seen the recent announcement on Beneforte broccoli, where research funded by the Government’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has led to the development of a highly commercial food product that will be both grown and sold in the UK. It will give a real boost to our agriculture, our personal health and, of course, the economy. Then there is graphene, the world’s toughest and thinnest substance, which was developed at Manchester University. To help to capitalise on its discovery, the Government announced earlier this month an investment of £50 million to develop a graphene global research and technology hub to translate this discovery into wealth and job creation for the UK.

Such achievements are vital to the reputation of our universities and the investment that they attract. Indeed, they represent a key export sector, worth around £8 billion, which lures business to the UK as well as the world’s most gifted researchers. According to the most recent international rankings, only the United States has more universities in the top 200, as has already been mentioned, but the UK has a greater impact relative to its investment. For all these reasons, the Government could not allow the financial crisis and the urgency of reducing the deficit to imperil these essential institutions. That is why we are introducing a different funding system.

The universities that we have today are teaching more than 2.4 million students, a substantial increase over the 171,000 students of 1962. From the next academic year, funding and more of it will flow into universities according to the choices made by students. Universities can go a long way to maintaining their incomes, provided that they remain attractive to prospective students—a point to which I shall return in a moment. Some talk as if the shift to student fees and loans will mean a loss of Exchequer support for our universities and, indeed, for beloved subject areas, but that is wrong. Even after 2012, the contribution from the taxpayer to the higher education sector will be very substantial. For one thing, it will cover the upfront fees for the vast majority of domestic students, as well as providing grants and loans. We are looking at around £6.5 billion in tuition loans on top of the £2 billion of remaining teaching grant going to subjects that are costly to deliver. We estimate that the cash going to universities in grants and fee loans combined could be 10 per cent higher by 2014-15 than it is now. We can afford this only because we will get a lot of it back, eventually, from higher paid graduates who will repay their loans.

In addition, the Government will spend £4.6 billion on research programmes every year until 2015 within a ring-fenced budget. We will spend over £600 million on capital for research in 2011-12. Shortly, we will also publish an innovation and research strategy to ensure that we maintain and strengthen our position as one of the most forward-thinking countries in the world. The strategy will set out how the UK can build on its existing strengths to become the most productive research base, globally, and high levels of investment in intangible assets to underpin sustainable private sector-led economic growth.

I return to the teaching mission of colleges and universities, which is sometimes overshadowed by the national interest in research. As we ask students to invest more in their personal futures, universities must focus even harder on the quality of the educational experience that they provide. The Government are introducing reform so that students can select the best institution for them from a sector which offers a greater range of provision, in which institutions are competing for applicants on both quality and cost. It will be vibrant, efficient and responsive—a sector with students at its heart. We want university to be available to the brightest, including those who can demonstrate that they have the potential to succeed. It has always been the case that not every applicant can secure a place. Going to university must remain a competitive process, with institutions retaining their autonomy and continuing to decide who they admit.

At the same time, the Government will always have to control the amount of public funding spent on higher education. In the past, they have done this by restricting the numbers of students each university can recruit annually. This has meant that there are lots of students every year who achieve the highest grades but cannot secure a place at the university of their choice. We want to change that, while ensuring that the overall cost to the public purse remains affordable. For university entry in autumn 2012, institutions will be able to recruit as many students as they can with the AAB grades or better at A-level, or the equivalent in other exams. This will allow more high-achieving students to attend the institution of their choice, and will allow institutions which can attract more of those students to expand. It will not prevent students with lower grades or alternative qualifications getting a place at university. This is simply the first step in freeing up student number controls.

Alongside this, we plan to create a flexible margin of 20,000 places in 2012-13, which will enable FE colleges and other providers to combine good quality with value for money. We know that there are providers which can offer a good learning experience for less than £7,500, and this will offer a wider choice for students.

Before concluding, I turn to some of the points that have been raised by noble Lords. I am mindful of the time, so if I curtail this I will write to noble Lords to whom I have not managed to respond.

In response to the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, I agree that some things are yet to be seen through, reviewed and monitored. However, I dispute his point that the universities are becoming marketplaces for the sake of marketplaces. We are trying to ensure that, at long last, students have greater opportunity and choice in the sort of subject matters that higher education institutions are able to produce, and to enable those who have never thought of going into higher education to see it as a conduit to going in with those choices, knowing that their loans and student fees will be paid up front. The noble Lord failed to accept this in his speech. He is stuck with the concept that he has over the years. I am not trying to downgrade the noble Lord’s point. I am just trying to say that the world has moved on. The way in which institutions respond must also be more responsive.

My noble friend Lady Brinton reminded me and the House that I will arrange for her to meet my right honourable friend David Willetts to discuss the repayment of loans and fees for part-time students. I extend that invitation to noble Lords who have taken part in the debate today. My right honourable friend is very happy to meet people to discuss part-time students’ repayments.

A number of noble Lords mentioned social mobility. I accept that social mobility has stalled, as I know do most noble Lords. It had also stalled over the 12 to 13 years that the previous Government were in place. That is why we have to introduce this important programme of widening participation. We want to ensure that everybody is able to benefit from the great lifetime benefits that graduates can enjoy once they have participated in further education. The participation rate of disadvantaged young people at institutions requiring higher entry tariffs has remained almost flat over recent years. We need to see progress on fair access, especially at our most selective institutions. That is why the Government have introduced a new framework which places increased responsibility on universities to widen participation. It is extremely important to ensure that no person who has the ability and the potential should be deterred from going to university simply because they feel that they would not be able to afford it. The Office for Fair Access will be strengthened. Annual access agreements have been put in place and there will be tougher sanctions on universities that fail to meet the access targets that they have agreed with OFFA. From the first round of new access agreements for 2012-13, OFFA estimates that by 2015-16 universities will be spending around £600 million on supporting fair access and widening participation.

Noble Lords spoke about overseas lecturers and overseas students. My officials and I are working very closely with the Home Office and the UK Border Agency to ensure that the needs of both the public and private education sectors are fully articulated and their interests are properly represented in all immigration policy-making decisions. We have made good progress on tackling the hurdles that institutions can face in bringing foreign academics over as guest lecturers and external examiners by expanding the terms of the tier 5 government-authorised exchange scheme. We have had success in raising the status of scientists and researchers, many of whom will take jobs in universities. Exceptional academics can apply via the new tier 1 exceptional talent route—a route that takes account of the expert views of the national academies. Ministers will continue to work with the UK Border Agency and with universities on removing obstacles to the essential business of the global intellectual exchange.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, asked about the numbers of midwives and nursing graduates. This is an issue for the Department of Health but I will take it back to that department for him.

Noble Lords talked about postgraduate study. We will continue to monitor the impact of our student finance reforms on postgraduate studies. In cash terms, HEFC is maintaining its research degree programme supervision funding, which will support the next generation of researchers, at £205 million for 2011-12. HEFC has recently consulted on its proposals for reforming the allocation method for postgraduate research funding from 2012-13 and aims to publish its response by the end of 2011.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, spoke about modern languages. I will take back to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State her concerns about languages in schools. However, I can tell her that since 2005 in higher education modern foreign languages have been classified as strategically important and vulnerable subjects, which means that via the Higher Education Funding Council the Government have provided additional support to ensure the continued availability of language places. The European Commission’s Erasmus programme and fee waiver provided by HEFC will continue for 2012-13 but we are working on options beyond that. That discussion is still going on and if I hear any further progress I shall inform the noble Baroness.

Noble Lords mentioned the impact on ethnic minority groups and here the Government have a good story to tell. There is a higher proportion of students from minority ethnic communities going into higher education than is represented in the working population. Research indicates that coming from a minority ethnic group seems to have a positive impact on a young person’s aspiration to enter higher education, even compared with those with the same prior attainment. Minority ethnic young people are also more likely to enter higher education than their white peers.

BIS undertook an equality impact assessment of the higher education funding reforms and changes to student finance in November 2010. The overall assessment was that the proposals would not have an adverse effect on minority ethnic groups. Another finding was that we expected the changes to the maintenance packages to benefit those in low-income households. Therefore people from minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely to benefit from the more generous packages that we were proposing.

As for how much students will pay and access agreements, the Government have already agreed a £6,000 threshold from 2012, but we have also insisted that institutions do more to promote fair access and widen participation. Those universities wishing to charge up to the maximum threshold of £9,000 will have to work under some stringent and strict frameworks and ensure that they are doing everything possible not to exclude people from poorer backgrounds. We know that OFFA is going to be rigorous in ensuring that this happens, but the Government, as always, will monitor the outcomes and respond if we feel that progress is not being made.

I know there is some concern about arts and humanities. Humanities and social sciences are, in some cases, losing their teaching grant, but funding will flow into arts and humanities courses via student tuition fees and the Government-subsidised student loan. So even when there will be no teaching grant for a discipline, it does not mean that there will be no Exchequer contribution. There are some disciplines that are officially recognised as strategically important and vulnerable and HEFCE is consulting on how the remaining teaching grant should be allocated. We will present final proposals for this in autumn 2012-13.

I would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, on his university being awarded the university of the year title for 2010. I will read carefully the questions that he put to me, but I absolutely agree with him that universities change the shape the cultures of communities, and Teesside has shown that. It is a good model for universities to look at when they feel they are under threat. Teesside has changed to meet the evolving needs of the student population, but also that of the community of Teesside.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, that I am new to this department, so in some of my responses I might need to beg the patience of the House in taking away some of his questions. However, I agree that rigid equality assessments are needed and if they have been done, I will make sure that the information is passed through to the noble Lord. If they have not, I will make sure that I relay the question to my right honourable friend.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howells, asked about degree-awarding powers and university titles. The White Paper said that we would review the use of the title “university” so there are no barriers to smaller institutions being classified as a university. The White Paper also undertook to decouple degree-awarding powers from teaching in order to facilitate externally assessed degrees by non-teaching bodies. These proposals are currently being consulted on via a new fit-for-purpose regulatory framework for the higher education sector which will be due to close on 27 October. We will then consider the responses.

I say to my noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton that the Government will still achieve savings of £36 billion by 2014-15 from the HE budget to contribute to lowering the deficit. The long-term cost to Government of student loans depends on the average amount borrowed by students rather than the fees charged, and additional contributions by graduates who benefit from higher education will result in a long-term saving to the Government.

I have run out of time. I have several responses to get through, but I would like to finish with my conclusion, so I shall read Hansard and respond in writing to the points that I have not answered. Although our reforms are often presented in the context of serious financial challenges, they nevertheless represent a significant opportunity—the opportunity for the student to have a stronger voice. Over the years, universities have had such strong incentives to focus on research that we believe that the role of teaching has been undervalued. That has got to change. Putting financial power in the hands of students will help to put them at the heart of the system. I am sure that no one would disagree with that. It is our ambition to lift the burden of centrally imposed bureaucracy on the higher education system. Freeing up student numbers, for example, will give institutions more flexibility. We are also looking at other ways of removing impositions over time.

This has been a really important debate. Your Lordships have brought real wisdom, expertise and, of course, challenges to the discussion. That is right and necessary. I did not go to university because I was not allowed to. I have fought a lifetime to ensure that those who want to and are able to should be able to go. I hope that we will have constructive discussions in the future so that no one has to be in my position, where culture and not potential stops someone going to university. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, for this debate.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. It has been of a level commensurate with the distinguished nature of contributors. I ask the Government to think seriously about their policies on universities, which, in my view, will be seriously damaging and counterproductive for our society as a whole. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.


Question for Short Debate

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the range of provisions and facilities available for general aviation.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who are to take part in this debate, and I declare that I am not only a private pilot but a director of the Light Aircraft Association, vice-president of the General Aviation Alliance, and president of the General Aviation Awareness Council, all of which are non-remunerated positions. In other words, I am deeply engaged with the lighter side of UK civil aviation and I am worried. Our airfields and smaller airports are threatened by the new national planning policy framework. Although there is clearly intent to protect them, I fear that protection will be ineffective without changes to the draft framework.

Britain has a great and historic civil aviation tradition, not just airliners, of which we have about 1,000 registered in the UK, but the more than 12,000 active general aviation—GA—aircraft. With the exception of airliners and the military, GA includes everything else. There are an estimated 4.6 million GA flights in the UK every year, more than twice that of airline and cargo flights. GA is important throughout Europe. In 2009, the European Parliament passed a resolution on an agenda for a sustainable future in general and business aviation. It is a well considered document based on discussion and agreement within the European GA community. The considerable arguments for the importance of GA to economic growth are well rehearsed in this resolution, for which the Aviation Minister has recently expressed her support. GA is a significant UK industry worth up to £3.7 billion annually and employs tens of thousands. It is a growth sector, including hundreds of small businesses. The Department for Transport is currently consulting on Developing a Sustainable Framework for UK Aviation, which, although mainly aimed at commercial air transport—CAT—will also have an impact on GA. A sustainable future for GA will see great improvements in the environmental impact as new, green fuels are developed and electric power becomes a reality for smaller aircraft.

The economic activity associated with GA, both at local and national level, directly and indirectly provides thousands of jobs, often in rural areas. British flight schools provide many of the trained pilots whom we need for our airlines. Aerial survey, photography, agricultural applications and pipeline patrols are just a few of the commercial GA operations carried out every day around the UK. Supporting businesses provide aircraft maintenance and many other services necessary to GA. Police, ambulance and search-and-rescue helicopters are based at GA airfields. Most of all, GA is about travel; across the UK and to neighbouring EU counties, GA gives us transport choices. All this activity depends upon the availability of a national network for GA. The UK has a network of several hundred such aviation sites. They range from thriving aviation centres with many associated businesses down to the sleepy grass landing strips deep in the countryside that my noble friend Lord Goschen flies from regularly.

The larger GA airfields are often small airports as well, shared with CAT. In such places GA and CAT support each other to provide a viable economic base, but this is not all about economics; there are real benefits to society and the community from the recreational opportunities GA provides, such as parachuting and gliding. This vital yet fragile GA infrastructure will be threatened by a national planning policy that does not specifically require local planning authorities to consider the national transportation issues for GA or recognise the economic importance of preserving a national GA network. LPAs that do not have up-to-date local plans may find that developers can assert a right to sustainable development unless the national framework provides otherwise. Airfields and small airports are often very desirable sites for developers, but our national interest requires an infrastructure to support aviation.

We have a perfect example before us. Plymouth airport is to close this year. Plymouth is an isolated city of nearly a quarter of a million people. The airport proprietor has announced its intention to close the airport and this has been permitted by the city council. This shows us what can happen when planners consider only local issues. Aviation facilities will be picked off one by one on the basis of localism, weak local plans and a presumption of sustainable development. Many of our GA airfields are on the edge of towns or cities, or identified as brownfield sites set within desirable country areas. What price could be put on an aerodrome such as Cambridge if it was available for housing development? How about Rochester, Leicester, Fairoaks, Redhill, White Waltham or Ipswich? Actually, Ipswich, recently a thriving airfield, has become a housing development.

Currently, several planning documents provide guidance for LPAs considering applications for airfield development. These include PPG13 for transport, and CAA policy documents concerning the safeguarding of aerodromes and wind turbine locations. I obtained assurances from the previous Government that airfields would not be treated as brownfield sites in their entirety. The Government's proposals will replace our extensive guidelines with a short document containing basic principles, so that we will no longer be able to rely on the documents and the protection that they offer.

It is clear that the authors of the NPPF recognised the problems this will cause for GA aircraft. The draft framework transport objectives includes a clause—paragraph 87—intended to provide protection for small airports and airfields by ensuring consideration of their wider economic and business roles, and of their support for the emergency services. It indicates that such considerations should be guided by the principles set out in the draft planning framework, the relevant national policy statements and the government framework for UK aviation. GA organisations have welcomed the intent of this section, but I am concerned that, despite its good intentions, it gives us no real protection.

The draft framework currently provides no relevant guiding principle. Also absent is an aviation national policy statement. No national guidance is available for LPAs considering airfields or airports. The government framework for UK aviation is in flux. It is currently in consultation as a scoping document that asks fundamental questions, most of them about CAT. It cannot help, either. Without a specific statement in the NPPF of the importance of airfields to our national transport network, the framework will not be fully effective in protecting them. Developers will be able to point to the lack of national policy guidance and take advantage of the situation, especially in the transitional period when local plans are weak or absent.

The solution is simple. All GA airfields and small airports should be afforded planning protection in the NPPF such that LPAs would be required to consider the national infrastructure when determining planning applications. This would also protect airfields in the absence of an adequate local plan.

Does the Minister agree that the NPPF must include more protections for the national GA infrastructure to guide consideration of planning applications involving airfields? I hope he will give us assurances and will actively support proposals so that appropriate planning protections for GA airfields are incorporated into the national planning framework.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rotherwick for giving us the opportunity to debate this question. I cannot hope to match his expert knowledge or long dedication to general aviation, but I hope at least to emphasise and perhaps develop some of the points he made so forcefully.

I start by saying that in my 20 years as a private pilot, it has always seemed that the general aviation industry has, to say the least, not been frequently on the radar of government. In some—perhaps even most—respects, this has been a very good thing. The industry has grown up and flourished in an atmosphere of self-reliance and without government subsidy. I hope that this self-reliance and absence of subsidy will continue indefinitely. I also hope that in future the Government will take a greater interest in general aviation than has historically been the case. A greater government interest is necessary because the context for general aviation is changing significantly. I will not repeat the excellent analysis of the aviation industry made by my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, but I will emphasise a few key facts.

The general aviation industry is not insignificant. The last CAA study estimated a contribution of £1.4 billion to the UK economy. A more recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study of 2006 put the contribution at £3.7 billion and estimated 50,000 direct employees. General aviation is a very significant element in flying training. Without GA flying schools, the supply of commercial pilots would suffer significantly. GA flying schools are also a source of foreign income. British flying schools have a long and distinguished record in the training of foreign pilots. This flying school activity and success happen despite the fact, as the CAA noted in 2006, British flying schools operate under a competitive disadvantage compared with schools in other countries, primarily because of the higher UK regulatory charges and higher tax charges.

General aviation is not small and is not all about leisure, although of course there is nothing wrong with leisure. There are around 1,000 flying sites in the United Kingdom, around 32,000 general aviation pilots and over 12,000 aircraft. Research for the General Aviation Awareness Council estimates that 70 per cent of general aviation activity has some safety or some business purpose. I should mention the safety record of the UK’s general aviation sector. General aviation flying in the United Kingdom is between three and four times safer than the European average, a quite remarkable tribute to our training system and to our pilots. I shall return to this statistic a little later in the context of the European licensing regime.

Overall, it seems to me that the GA industry now faces two particular challenges and would benefit from more attention from the Government as they try to deal with these problems. As my noble friend Lord Rotherwick has said, the first problem is to do with UK planning regulations, in particular as they relate to wind farms and at least in one case as they relate to High Speed 2. As things stand, the CAA gives guidance on the siting of wind farms. A problem arises because this guidance can be and is ignored by planning authorities. The result is the siting of wind farms against CAA guidance and in what airfields and aviators consider to be dangerous proximity to active runways. Sometimes commercial opportunities presented by wind farms are irresistible to airfield owners, with the consequent loss of facilities to GA and to the wider community.

I am advised by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association that as of today the airfields at Strubby and at Manby in Lincolnshire, at Fishburn in Durham, at Truro in Cornwall, and at Fearn and at Glenbrittle in Scotland are all at risk of closure because of wind farms. There will be more. What is needed, as my noble friend has pointed out, is for the CAA guidance to be given some force. I hope that the Minister can investigate how this may be done.

The problem is not only wind farms, as I have said. In at least one important case, High Speed 2 may also force the closure of an airfield. Twenty-odd years ago, I started to learn to fly at a flying school at Denham airfield in Buckinghamshire. For a very long time, this has been a thriving and busy airfield with easy access to London. Unfortunately, the proposed route of High Speed 2 shows the line passing too close for comfort to the east end of the runway at Denham. Worse, a possible Heathrow spur appears at the moment to pass directly through the runway itself. It would be very sad to lose an airfield such as Denham in order to be in Birmingham 15 minutes early.

The Question on the Order Paper asks for the Government’s assessment of the provisions and facilities available for general aviation. I beg your Lordships’ indulgence to interpret this to cover also the provision of licences for British GA pilots. The conditions attaching to the provision of British GA licences are essentially now determined in Brussels. The European Parliament has very recently approved by a very narrow margin new and onerous conditions for licences. Specifically up until now it had been possible to fly in the UK, as I do, on a foreign pilot’s licence, even if domiciled here. This arrangement is to be terminated. In future, all pilots domiciled in Europe will be required to have European licenses. As General Aviation notes:

“For many pilots, even those who have been flying perfectly safely for decades, this would mean going back to school and studying at enormous expense for a piece of paper they didn't need”.

The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Association estimates that this will affect 100,000 pilots in Europe, many of whom are domiciled here in the UK where our safety record is already three to four times better than the European average. This development directly threatens the health of UK general aviation and is completely unnecessary. It is an area where a little more active government help would have been, and still would be, very welcome. I urge the Minister to look carefully at the burdens that EU regulation is imposing quite unnecessarily on this self-reliant and unsubsidised general aviation industry.

I close by once again thanking my noble friend Lord Rotherwick for initiating this debate and saying how much I hope we can convince the Minister of the need to give general aviation just a little more care and attention in future.

My Lords, I, too, am very pleased to be able to support the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, who has brought this Question to the House for debate today. He is a far more qualified man to speak on this matter than I, a temporarily lapsed private pilot’s licence holder. However, I am the operator of a small airfield, such as those described by the noble Lord, which all elements of general aviation are encouraged to use. As such I declare my interests, and also the hope that I can offer some experience to the debate. Although my interest is in Scotland, and planning issues in Scotland are devolved, we are talking about issues that are regulated under United Kingdom and European legislation for general aviation.

The noble Lord gave an excellent description of the scope and extent of general aviation aircraft activity in the UK, of the ratio of 12:1 in active registered general aviation aircraft to the larger commercial aircraft that are normally considered when we discuss aviation and of the incredible range of small businesses associated with maintenance and airfield management, and not forgetting pilot training, which was mentioned by both previous speakers. Aircraft make use of everything from an uncontrolled or licensed grass strip a couple of hundred metres long to an airport such as Prestwick, which has a runway of just under 3,000 metres, full instrument landing systems and controlled airspace, where commercial and general aviation work in total harmony.

However, the general aviation influence goes further, and it is just as important that there are other businesses that also benefit from general aviation, such as pubs, bed-and-breakfast establishments, tourist attractions and even sporting events and golf clubs that gain extra business from short-term, out-of-area visitors. They all benefit from pilots and passengers using the extra transport choice of flight to go further in a shorter time bringing much needed extra income into rural, often remote areas, and helping to support small business. I should also mention the emergency use of small airfields, not only by ambulances and the police but where a familiar and safe landing place can be found for the less fortunate non-professional flyer, who may have misjudged the weather or suffered a mechanical, or even a navigational, failure.

This demonstrates the wide variety of reasons for continued support for a network of active airfields across the whole country. Transport of every sort is essential for the continuation of business, and general aviation operations add an extra element of flexibility for business through helicopters and light aircraft. The training of commercial and military pilots also starts with light aircraft, and from the sport and leisure perspective, flying introduces a degree of skill not found on the sports field. Flying is also one of the more complex sports that can be undertaken by those with some disabilities, as the British Disabled Flying Association and Aerobility have shown so well.

I hope I have managed to give the Minister a small overview of why I think that general aviation deserves the support of the Government and special consideration when draft policies, such as the national planning policy framework, are produced. Post war, there was a considerable resource of airfields throughout the country that were available for general aviation, but they were rapidly put to other uses, such as removal for aggregate production, agriculture or development, which was, without doubt, sensible at the time. Many would probably not have been suitable for long-term use anyway. There may be a need for more development ground and a diminished availability of brownfield land for housing wind farms, but there is still a very great need for aviation use as well.

I look forward to the Minister’s reply and hope that he will endeavour to give an assurance that not only will relevant sections of the draft NPPF be reviewed to allow for the inclusion of aviation considerations in all relevant planning issues but local planning authorities will also be encouraged to maintain and protect the facilities that currently exist for GA rather than allowing them to disappear, as has happened in Ipswich and is soon to happen in Plymouth. I am encouraged by listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, sum up the first debate today. I shall look forward to checking my Hansard later.

The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, worded his question for debate very well by asking what assessment the Government have made of the range of provisions and facilities for GA. Therefore, I very much look forward to an assurance that a government framework for UK aviation or an aviation national policy statement will be produced as soon as possible. I also hope that a policy is published on maintaining a viable network of GA airfields, as recommended by the CAA as long ago as 2006, and that we may have an opportunity to debate it as soon as possible after publication.

My Lords, I too declare an interest as a private pilot and aircraft owner. I do not have quite the degree of technical or operational skill as my noble friend Lord Rotherwick, whom I thank for bringing the debate forward this afternoon. Noble Lords should know that not only is his Lordship a distinguished pilot, but he also creates aeroplanes with his bare hands: a lot of clinking and clanking comes from the shed and a couple of years later a sleek aeroplane emerges, which shows a degree of hands-on knowledge that this House clearly urgently needs in so many fields.

Today we are considering the importance of maintaining the infrastructure necessary to support general aviation in this country. Once facilities are lost, they very rarely come back. An airfield can very quickly become a housing estate, and given the difficulty and expense involved in establishing new airfields, these facilities are very unlikely to be replaced. General aviation—everything apart from airline and military flying—is important. My noble friend Lord Sharkey gave clear indications of the value to the economy of maintaining this sector.

It is also important that we have a large flying training industry in the UK, supplying pilots into the commercial sphere. Despite the weather that we enjoy, as it were, in this country, pilots and would-be pilots come from all over the world, sent here by airlines and governments for the very high quality of training that exists in the UK. The UK is still the gold standard for aviation training, arguably the best in the world. We have that reputation and we must keep it that way if at all possible.

Light aviation in this country depends as much on small, grass airfields as on large facilities. Many long-established operations, some hailing from shortly after the dawn of flying, operate from what to the untutored eye would look like a farmer’s field with perhaps a few nissen huts or hangars. The development value of this land is out of all proportion to the activity and viability of the businesses that exist on it. If it were to be considered to be brownfield land and therefore open for development, the consequences would be very serious. The value of a large acreage of a grass field that is suddenly considered appropriate for development would be very substantial. It is highly likely in that circumstance that the landlords—some of them may be local councils, for example—may choose to do away with the aviation facilities and replace them with housing or a supermarket development, leading to an irreplaceable loss of facilities.

With the degree of regulation in this industry, an area that has been touched on, and the high cost of fuel, these businesses are sometimes only marginally profitable, yet they sit on substantial areas of open space. It is worth remembering that if these businesses did not exist as they do now, they would almost certainly be converted into intensive development if planning regulations allowed that to happen. While some people may have legitimate concerns about living in proximity to airfields, they would be wise to consider the alternative and be careful what they wish for. However, the great majority of airfields go to huge lengths to engage with their local populace and neighbours, and to build good relationships.

We have heard today that it is important for the country to retain a healthy general aviation sector in order to generate employment, training and transport links, and recreation to those who fly for pleasure. But these airfields are under constant threat and speakers have given specific examples of where that has been the case. In a way, there is also threat from the cost of regulation and from the Civil Aviation Authority. The CAA is alive to these general aviation concerns and has shown itself to be keen to listen. In recent years, it has put through an increase in charging for inspection for smaller airfields, which has shown rapid growth in the fees charged. The CAA operates on something of a cost-plus basis. That cost of course is determined by the organisation. The plus is its requirement to generate a return on the capital deployed. From memory, I think that it is 8 per cent, although I am sure that the Minister can correct me if I am wrong. It is, perhaps, even 6 per cent.

European regulation is also important. When we look at the strength or fragility of the airport and GA infrastructure, we should consider the effects that regulation, which often these days comes from Europe, can have. I would be the first to say that we are fortunate in this country in terms of our regulatory regime. The CAA knows a great deal about the field and has shown itself willing to engage in the issues. We have a deregulated regime for vintage and home-built aircraft in the form of the Light Aircraft Association, which is a tremendous privilege. It is a high-quality organisation like the CAA. This regime works very well.

However, we need to be vigilant. This may sound like an esoteric subject for the House of Lords to discuss on a Thursday afternoon but it is important. We have heard from noble Lords who have spoken of much greater figures in terms of the economic scale of the industry—more than £3.5 billion—and the employment that it supports. There are strategic and tactical implications, and it is vital that we maintain this infrastructure.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, on securing this debate. However, perhaps I may enter a little caveat about something that the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, said. I am not so sure that this is an esoteric subject. We have been pressing the Government for an aviation policy for many months now, but we have been told in every answer that the Minister has so ably deployed that we must wait until the government policy is formulated and ready. This is an important debate which helps us to probe the Government, and perhaps also to prod them towards an early resolution of these issues, despite the fact that we all recognise that general aviation is a relatively minor part of aviation policy. That does not alter the fact—as has been amply demonstrated this afternoon—of the significant contribution that general aviation provides. The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, who is well qualified as a pilot, also emphasised general aviation’s role in developing the interest of young people in acquiring the skills to become a pilot. There is no doubt that this is a very important dimension of the contribution to our overall success, in circumstances where we must surely recognise our concern about aviation as a whole—a concern that one of the most successful sectors of our economy is, in the current government stance, somewhat being reined in.

I understand the political considerations that led the Government to take their stance on Heathrow—not least during an election campaign when marginal seats in west London were at stake. However, the Government have to face up to the fact that, at present, their record is one of negativity towards aviation. I expect the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to indicate a somewhat more positive response than he has done in questions and debates.

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. However, does this mean that the Opposition are in favour of the extension of Heathrow? If so, it is a new policy about which many people will be very unhappy on the grounds of both air quality and the environment.

My Lords, as we indicated throughout the whole of the election campaign, there were severe risks to the expansion of our aviation industry as well as potential damage to our economy, particularly a lack of competitiveness against other European airports such as Schiphol, Madrid and Charles de Gaulle. As the noble Lord will recognise only too well, as matters have developed over the past 18 months of this Government’s management of the economy, we can ill afford negativity when it comes to an area where we have previously been conspicuously successful. I wanted to put aviation on the agenda, and general aviation into a context, because it is important. However, I was really responding to the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, in seeking to emphasise that general aviation has its part to play in this important sector of the economy.

The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, went on to identify not only the very significant level of employment in general aviation but also the amount of resources that it develops. He also identified some real anxieties. The anxieties in this debate—expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Rotherwick and Lord Sharkey, and the noble Earl, Lord Stair—are about aspects of planning policy. We all have anxieties about planning policy, not least because the development of government strategy at this stage leaves unanswered as many questions as it answers. However, unless local considerations are assigned significance in planning while being balanced with national strategic requirements, the great danger is that the seed-corn of general aviation will be greatly reduced because, as noble Lords indicated today, some airfields could be closed to aviation and other forms of development. That is an important dimension, and I hope that the Minister will give us some assurances on this front.

The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, made an important point when he identified the safety record of general aviation. We would be in some difficulties if we were arguing about this contribution to national welfare if the safety record was anything other than one of the best in the world, and it certainly compares well with the rest of Europe. That helps to support the argument about the importance of general aviation. While I accept the point made by the noble Lord that no one is looking for a subsidy for the industry at the present time—I am sure that the Government are not looking to give one in their present travails—we should nevertheless expect the Government to take an interest in this important contribution to the economy.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will respond to the fact that general aviation is increasingly valued by the wider population. Only a relatively small number of people actually train to become pilots, and only a relatively small number are employed on airfields, but people are becoming increasingly aware of the benefit of air support for quite a number of our significant services. I mention the fact that only in recent years has there been an air ambulance service in Hertfordshire, where I live. I do not doubt that public subscription has contributed to it, and Hertfordshire is not the only county. What I do know is how much the air ambulance service is appreciated in the locality, and of course it depends upon the skills available and the opportunities provided.

I accept the point about the anxieties in certain areas of the country over threats to their airfields. There is no doubt that both Cornwall and Devon are two illustrations of the very real anxieties felt in recent years that the airfields they regard as significant to their local economies have been under threat. I hope that the Minister will give an indication of his concern that certain crucial regional airfields are in the mind of the Government in their consideration of their overall strategy.

This has been a most interesting debate. It has asked the Government to come clean on aviation policy. Admittedly it is a relatively narrow area, but it is one of great significance. I hope that the Minister will not be shy in making his points today, as on occasions in the past I have found he has been wont to be.

My Lords, I start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Rotherwick on securing this debate. My noble friend said that he was worried, but he need not be, not least because of his skilful advocacy of general aviation. We have heard about the significant contribution that the general aviation sector makes to the UK economy, and we must not forget the social benefits of GA as well. It provides many thousands of enthusiasts with the chance to enjoy their passion for flying, provides world-class training for pilots, technicians and many other roles, and inspires youngsters to take up a career in aviation. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, rightly mentioned the vital air ambulance services.

The existence of a network of general aviation airfields across the country plays a key role in the success of this sector, linking business centres that are not otherwise served by commercial air services, and providing the basis from which various recreational and sporting aviation activities take place. My noble friend Lord Rotherwick and others mentioned the employment opportunities that can arise. Reference has been made to the current planning system, which, I regret to say, has become unwieldy and complex, making it hard for experts to put into practice, let alone communities to understand. Instead, the Government are committed to putting in place a simpler, swifter system that everyone can understand. This afternoon's debate will, I hope, reassure my noble friend that the policies within the draft National Planning Policy Framework support and maintain appropriate protection for our important general aviation sector.

The draft framework streamlines current national planning policy into a consolidated set of priorities to consider when planning for and deciding on new development. It will help to ensure that planning decisions reflect genuine national objectives, such as the need to safeguard the natural environment, combat climate change and support sustainable local growth.

Did my noble friend notice that the noble Lord the spokesman for the Opposition made it quite clear that the Opposition did not take an interest in the environmental case, which enabled us to say that the expansion of Heathrow was a bad thing, but tried to suggest that it was a party-political decision rather than one of high moral standing?

My Lords, I try to minimise my party-political comments as much as possible and normally manage to confine them to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham.

Planning decisions should support those national objectives while allowing local councils and communities to produce their own plans, reflecting the distinctive needs and priorities of different parts of the country. The draft framework sets national priorities and rules only where it is necessary to do so. The principle of sustainable development permeates the draft: that the actions we take to meet our needs today must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own. I will not be drawn any further into defining “sustainable development”.

To help support economic prosperity, the draft framework contains polices on planning for business, transport and infrastructure. To support quality of life, there are policies on housing, design and the green belt; and to help protect our environment there are polices covering climate change, and our natural and historic environment.

As my noble friend Lord Rotherwick noted, the transport polices within the draft framework streamline current transport policy contained within PPG 13 on transport. However, it is important to emphasise that the current core policy approach for planning for airports and airfields has not changed. The draft framework asks local councils to consider the growth and role of airports and airfields, which are not subject to a separate national policy statement, in serving business, leisure, training and emergency service needs. Local councils are also asked to consider the principles set out in the relevant national policy statements and the Government's framework for UK aviation, which is under development. So in answer to my noble friend’s question, I do not feel that specific further protection provisions for airfields are needed in the NPPF if they are to be set out elsewhere.

Reference was also made earlier to previously developed land. On this, the Government want to hand responsibility back to local councils and communities to decide which developable land should be used in their areas. The draft framework still encourages the use of previously developed land for development. It states that,

“plans should allocate land with the least environmental or amenity value”.

That means, of course, using derelict land when considering where to develop in the future. But it also allows restored green space that was once in industrial use, such as urban nature reserves, to be protected.

The reforms will give power back to local communities to decide the areas they wish to see developed and those protected away from the interference of Whitehall. The definition of “previously developed land” within the draft framework remains the same as that set out within PPG 3 on housing. It is defined as land which is or was occupied by a permanent structure, including the curtilage of the developed land and any associated fixed-surface infrastructure.

However, in determining the future use of an airfield which is deemed to comprise,

“land with the least environmental or amenity value”,

the local council will need to also consider the role of the airport or airfield in serving business, leisure, training and emergency service needs, and ensure the location of the proposed development is appropriate and sustainable when considered against all of the policies within the national planning policy framework, the local plan for the area and any other relevant material planning considerations.

I note that the General Aviation Alliance has responded to the Government’s call for comments on the draft framework. I can assure noble Lords that during the weeks ahead the Government will consider all the suggestions that have been made as part of this consultation and will ensure that the policy adopted will continue to protect against inappropriate development, while also enabling local people to plan for the sensible and well designed development that provides homes and jobs, on which the future prosperity of their community depends.

I will try to answer as many specific questions as possible. I always look forward to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and I will of course be positive. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that a policy framework for aviation will not be completed in a few months, as he suggested. The noble Lord will also recall that Heathrow, while very important, is not generally involved in general aviation activities, for obvious reasons, so I will resist the temptation to get involved in debating Heathrow.

My noble friend Lord Rotherwick asked about the supporting aviation infrastructure network. The draft NPPF asks local councils to work with neighbouring councils and transport providers to develop strategies for the provision of the viable infrastructure necessary to support sustainable economic growth. This includes the transport investment necessary to support strategies for the growth of airports. My noble friend also asked about extending the safeguarding to all GA airfields and small airports. This would require careful consideration as there is potential for conflict with other aviation interests and wider government aims. The safeguarding process includes protection against other aviation activity; given the significant number of aerodromes across the UK, there is a real risk of overlapping safeguarding zones. Where this occurred, local planners might be forced to prioritise one aerodrome over another, which may in turn work to the detriment of general aviation.

My noble friend Lord Sharkey asked a number of questions, including one about UK flight training. He will recognise that there are a number of commercial and operational reasons why flight training organisations conduct some or all of their training outside of the UK, despite the observations of my noble friend Lord Goschen about the high quality of UK training. These include increased competition from flying schools in other countries, rising costs—including VAT—and the complications afforded by the weather and congested airspace in the UK. Mitigating some of these taxation issues, even if desirable, could cause considerable problems with the EU state aid rules and the principal VAT directive. However, the UK has implemented the mandatory exemptions for suppliers of education laid down in Article 132 of the principal VAT directive. My noble friend also asked about renewable energy. The coalition Government have made clear their commitment to increasing the deployment of renewable and low-carbon energy across the UK.

My noble friends Lord Sharkey and Lord Goschen also asked about European issues related to pilot licensing and EU regulation. The UK supports the principles of proportionate regulation and the view that new EU regulatory proposals should be supported by a meaningful impact assessment that reflects different types of aviation activity across the sector. A one-size-fits-all approach is not always the best solution. My noble friend Lord Goschen compliments the UK regulatory regime—he should do because he had ministerial responsibility for it at one point.

The noble Earl, Lord Stair, asked about a sustainable framework for aviation. The Government are currently developing a new policy framework for UK aviation. A scoping document was published on 30 March, setting out our priorities for aviation, and the extended call for evidence closes on 20 October. The scoping document asked a series of questions, some of which are specifically directed at the GA sector, including the balance to be struck between conflicting demands such as housing and maintaining a network of GA aerodromes. I can assure the noble Lord that a number of GA stakeholders have already responded and their views will be taken into consideration alongside those of other respondents as the policy development process moves forward. The noble Earl asked about the protection of agricultural land. The policy in the draft framework maintains the agricultural land protections currently set out in planning policy statement 7.

My noble friend Lord Goschen asked about the local impacts of airfield development. The draft framework includes a policy that asks local councils to ensure that the new development is appropriate for its location, having regard to the effects of pollution on health and the natural environment or general amenity and taking into account the amount of potential sensitivity of the area of proposed development to adverse effects from pollution. This policy would apply to planning proposals nearby or next to airports or airfields. Therefore, where noise is likely to be an issue to the proposed site or development, the location is likely to be deemed inappropriate.

In conclusion, I thank my noble friend for his short debate and all his efforts in supporting the general aviation sector.

House adjourned at 5.11 pm.