Skip to main content

Lords Chamber

Volume 732: debated on Thursday 10 November 2011

House of Lords

Thursday, 10 November 2011.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Cluster Munitions


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they consider that Article 21 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, incorporated in the Oslo Treaty of 2008, debars states party to that convention from promoting the adoption by other states of another convention containing weaker restrictions on the use of such weapons.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is fully committed to the Convention on Cluster Munitions and our Article 21 commitments. We will not sign up to anything that would undermine it or dilute our obligations under it. We believe that engaging in negotiations for a protocol on cluster munitions in the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is consistent with paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 21 of the convention. These are negotiations within the framework of an international humanitarian law treaty, which are aiming at establishing restrictions on a significant number of cluster munitions, which would have a notable humanitarian effect.

My Lords, Article 21 actually requires us to promote the norms established by the Oslo treaty and the CCM. The norms in the CCW convention that we are now discussing are significantly lower and permit the use, for instance, of the M85 weapon, which formed a considerable part of the saturation bombing of the Lebanon by Israel in 2006, when 4 million sub-units were used. Can my noble friend not see that the United Nations kitemark on a convention of this sort, which permits the use of many sorts of these child-killing weapons, will lead the rest of the world to think that the use of these weapons is respectable? This is not promoting the norms that we have undertaken to promote.

A lot of what my noble friend says is very wise. I emphasise that our consistent aim has been to ensure that any protocol on cluster munitions which emerges from the CCW parties is complementary to and does not contradict the rights and obligations of state parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. I see the concern of my noble friend. The Government are anxious to take account of the worries and views of noble Lords and of Parliament generally. I repeat that we will not sign up to anything that would undermine the gold standard, as it were, of the existing convention. I give my noble friend that reassurance. A lot will depend on the negotiations and how they come out. Our position will be determined by that, not by any undermining of the kind which the noble Lord fears.

My Lords, notwithstanding the changes that we agreed the other day, would the Minister spare me having to thank him for that Answer, which I am afraid increases concern rather than decreases it? Will he not recognise that there is a very strong body of opinion in this House and in the House of Commons, which was brought to the attention of the Minister responsible for disarmament the other day, about the negotiations in Geneva for a protocol whose sole purpose is to ban some antique cluster munitions that are not very relevant to today’s world and which, if it is agreed, will have the effect of legitimising the modern cluster munitions weapons, including those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that were used to such disastrous effect in the Lebanon? Will he not recognise that these feelings are strong and well founded? Will he not agree that it would be completely wrong—politically, not just legally—for this country either to support or to subscribe to any convention that makes that distinction and has the effect of legitimising these appalling modern weapons?

The noble Lord made a number of points. The antique cluster weapons are of course often the nastiest, particularly if they are used, so banning them is no bad thing. As for the negotiation over the protocol, obviously we will take into account the points that the noble Lord has made. However, perhaps he should take into account the point that 85 to 90 per cent of all cluster weapons are with non-Oslo state parties and so are left out of the present commitment, to which we ourselves are totally committed. If his advice is that we should ignore that situation, that sounds to me like a direct attack on a humanitarian benefit that we might achieve. I wonder if he would not like to reconsider his position.

My Lords, what is the mechanism for the adoption of the convention? Is it a majority vote by the Security Council? Do we have a veto?

We have already adopted the convention and it is a question of getting more countries to sign up to it. Alas, there are a number of important countries—the United States, Russia and China, for a start—that have not done so. That is the mechanism on the existing convention. If any protocol emerges from this, and that is a very large if—it depends on the force of our stance and our commitment not to sign anything that would undermine the convention—that would have to be approved by the United Nations and would have to receive signatories in the same way.

My Lords, will my noble friend give the House an assurance that, where competing international treaties or protocols are being negotiated, the United Kingdom will always strive, particularly in the context of arms sales, for the higher ethical standards in the spirit of our disarmament obligations that we have maintained for well over 60 years?

Clearly, we will give primacy to the gold standard, as I call it, of this convention. If it reassures my noble friend, I confess that we are disappointed with the progress of negotiations so far. We will continue to press the world’s major users and producers to give up more, be more transparent and be more explicit in their commitment to working towards a world free of cluster munitions, which is the aim of all of us.

My Lords, the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Hannay, is that in the current approach there is a risk of legitimising the use of modern cluster weapons. Could the Minister respond to that point?

First, let me say that the previous Government made excellent progress on this. The noble Lord may remember that when I was sitting in his place we supported that, and some brave and bold decisions were taken that we were all very pleased with. The risk is there in the negotiation, but it is a risk that we are determined to avoid. We do not want to legitimise lower standards or undermine or dilute the Convention on Cluster Munitions in any way. That is the approach that we will use in our negotiations. I cannot go into our detailed stance because that would not be very helpful at this stage, but the noble Lord is right that there are risks in this matter, and we are determined to avoid them.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many of us doubt that modern cluster weapons are less nasty than the antique ones? Will he give an undertaking that the Government will not in future sign up to any convention that permits the use of modern cluster weapons?

As I said, we will not sign up to any convention that in any way dilutes or undermines obligations. I made the observation on antique weapons merely because it is a minimalist better-than-nothing point that banning antique weapons would be a start. Obviously, we would like to see a total ban, but we have to face the fact that 85 to 90 per cent of cluster munition countries and manufacturers are left out of the present convention. We must battle on to better things, but we cannot achieve it all overnight.

Education: Qualifications


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what studies they have carried out on the trends in numbers of students studying for A-levels and other further education qualifications.

My Lords, my department publishes an annual study showing the number of 16 to 17 year-olds studying A and AS-levels and other qualifications. At the end of 2010, a record 600,000 16 to 17 year-olds were in full-time education studying A and AS-levels. A further 413,000 were in full-time education studying vocational qualifications. Record funding of over £7.5 billion is going into 16 to 19 funding this year and the Government are committed to raising the participation age to 17 from 2013, and to 18 from 2015.

Has the Minister seen the recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which seems to imply that education cuts are specifically affecting the 16 to 19 year-old sector? Does he agree that with the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance, the cuts in education and the deterrent effect of tuition fees, against the background of rapidly rising youth unemployment, 16 to 19 year-olds are facing a very difficult situation? Action may be urgently needed across government to give this vital section of our population increased educational and work opportunities for the future.

I obviously agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, about the importance of extending educational opportunity for that age group. That is why we are committed to raising the participation age and why we have put record funding into the 16 to 19 year-old group generally. As we have debated before, we have prioritised, at a time when we have less money than we would like, funding for pre-16s. All the evidence shows that academic achievement up to the age of 16 is the strongest determinant of subsequent success, both educationally and in job terms. We have done that, but I agree with the noble Baroness that 16 to 19 year- olds are important and we are looking across government at our participation strategy to address some of the concerns that she fairly raises.

My Lords, what are the most recent trends, identified by the comparative European and international studies in which the UK participates, into how many students aged 16 and over are studying a modern foreign language?

Given that the noble Baroness is asking that question, I suspect that the answer may well be that other countries are doing more in terms of modern foreign languages than our own country. I share her concern: we want to redress the balance. As she knows, we are keen, through things like the English baccalaureate, to encourage take-up of modern foreign languages in our schools. In time, that should work its way up through the education system.

What can the Government do to help schools access the technology they need for e-learning and distance learning through which they can access the specialist teachers that they cannot employ in their own schools? That would help students to widen the range of subject areas that they could take at A-level. Obviously, modern foreign languages could be a case in point.

I agree with my noble friend about the importance of technology and the way that it opens up all sorts of opportunities that were not there before, perhaps particularly for children in rural areas. We need to look at that and make sure that its potential is fully realised.

My Lords, the noble Lord has given us a figure for A-levels. The Question goes on to ask about other, equivalent “further education qualifications”. Can he give us any idea of how many pupils are taking the international baccalaureate?

I do not have the precise figures but I will be happy to write to the noble Lord with them. I know of his interest in the subject; we have discussed this before. It is, as he knows, a relatively small number but I am glad to say that I think it is increasing slowly in the maintained sector as well as the independent sector. I will do my best to get up-to-date figures and write to the noble Lord with them.

My Lords, what work are the Government doing to monitor trends in the number of students who go on from A-levels or other pathways of learning to apply to university? In particular, what steps are they taking to monitor whether the changed funding arrangements are deterring numbers from lower socioeconomic groups from making such applications?

My Lords, we are developing destination measures, which should help us to get a better picture than we currently have of what happens to children after they leave school, whether they go into further or higher education or into jobs. It is important to know what the destinations are, so we are working on those measures, which will help us. As to monitoring the effect of some of the changes that we have had to make—for example, over the educational maintenance allowance, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin—we will keep it under review to see what impact it has.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the scrapping of the educational maintenance allowance is widely held to be a major culprit in the recent drop in the number of students attending FE colleges? Is he aware of the wide disquiet that exists about the operation of the replacement for the EMA, and will the Government consider reversing the decision if the number of students in FE colleges continues to drop?

My Lords, as I have said, we are keen to keep the effect of the changes that we have made under review. As the noble Baroness will know, we were driven to make those changes because the proportion of children in receipt of EMA—46 per cent of them—meant that it did not feel like a targeted approach. We wanted to target the money that we have more closely on those children who need it most, which is what lies behind the redirection and the creation of the new bursary fund. The noble Baroness referred to the impact on FE colleges. I know that a survey was carried out by the Association of Colleges to look into that. That survey, which looked at around half of all colleges, found that the number where enrolment had increased was the same as the number where it had decreased. The overall fall was only 0.1 per cent, which, given that there was a fall of 40,000 in the age cohort generally, does not feel like a significant change. However, we must keep it under review and we certainly will.



Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to reduce the volume of primary and secondary legislation being introduced in Parliament.

My Lords, like every Government before us, this Government intend to enact the legislative programme set out in the Queen’s Speech. The number of pages in primary legislation enacted so far in this Session is less than in other comparable Sessions.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that somewhat spare Answer. However, will the Government give serious consideration to the establishment of a commission of wise people, properly resourced, to look into the now profound and multi-faceted problem of increasing—and increasingly complex—legislation, which has dire effects in terms of citizen disaffection, bureaucracy and failed implementation?

My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with what my noble friend says, and he is right; legislation is more difficult and complicated, in large part because we live in a more difficult and complicated world. You just have to look at the growth in technology and the subsequent substantial increase in regulation and secondary legislation. There is more legislation from Europe; there are active judges and so forth. However, I wonder whether my noble friend’s solution is necessarily the right one. You could not get much more collective wisdom than is present in your Lordships’ House, where every piece of legislation is discussed and debated very thoroughly.

Does the noble Lord agree that this epidemic of legislative obesity has produced on average 3,165 pages of government Acts each year for the past three years, compared with 1,325 pages a year under the Attlee Government in 1945 to 1947, when really important legislation was being enacted? This extends to secondary legislation; in the last yearly statistics—we are right up to date—there were 10,662 pages of statutory instruments, of which admittedly 8.5 per cent were made under the European Communities Act but 95.1 per cent were our national legislative mountain. Does the Minister agree that is extremely difficult for ordinary citizens to comprehend what is being enacted in their name?

I am not going to quarrel with the noble Lord’s figures or, indeed, his conclusion; increasingly people have difficulty in catching up with the changes that are made regularly in legislation. Unless we get this right, there is a danger that at some time in our lives we will all become law-breakers solely out of ignorance. We keep these things under review and we wish to have legislation which is clear and simple and easy to understand. I know that this House will support our efforts.

The Leader of the House says there are fewer pages enacted. Is this because the legislation is poorly drafted and requires a lot of work by your Lordships?

No, my Lords, of course not. What is true, however, is that certainly in this Parliament there are more and more amendments being put down by your Lordships. Your Lordships are incredibly active in wishing to see changes or even putting down probing amendments, and that means that we have spent far longer on legislation than we have done in previous Sessions, particularly on Committees of the whole House. That is not necessarily a bad thing but it is also true that your Lordships need to have a little bit of self-denying ordinance so that we do more than just delay the programme of government.

My Lords, my noble friend should not feel unduly exposed in this because the problem is of great antiquity. Does he know that Tacitus said in silver Rome that whereas formerly we suffered from crimes, today we suffer from laws. Dean Swift began trying to find a solution when he said that in Brobdingnag:

“No laws of that country must exceed in words the number of letters in their alphabet; but few of them extend even to that length. They are expressed in the most plain and simple terms, so that people are not mercurial enough to discover above one interpretation”.

In Brobdingnag, of course, to write a comment upon any law was a capital crime.

Seriously, does the noble Lord recall that under the guidance of Lord Hailsham, for example, and his predecessor, Reginald Manningham-Buller, within the Cabinet structure there was severe constant scrutiny of the very problem with which the House is now concerned? It does need to be taken seriously.

My Lords, only in this House could we go from Prime Minister Attlee’s Government to Tacitus, to Swift, and then to today’s Cabinet. My right honourable friend the Lord Privy Seal, Sir George Young, and I—and others—yield to no one in our desire to try to make legislation shorter, clearer and better. It is not an easy task—and it is a serious task, as my noble and learned friend pointed out—but I also know that in this House there is a desire to achieve these aims.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is desirable to have an automatic review of legislation after three to five years, to measure its effectiveness?

My Lords, the previous Government instituted a process of post-legislative scrutiny that we have taken up, and it kicks in after three to five years, when the Government publish a memorandum. Increasingly in future Sessions of Parliament, we will see more work being done to measure the effectiveness of legislation that this Parliament has passed.

Environment: Cockle Beds


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their approach to tackling problems resulting from illegal fishing on the cockle beds of the Ribble estuary.

My Lords, the management of local fisheries, including cockling on the Ribble estuary, has been devolved to the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and, as such, the conservation authority leads in managing the situation in co-operation with all interested parties, including enforcement agencies. In the light of recent events, North Western IFCA has closed the cockle fisheries for safety reasons. It is now a criminal offence to take or remove cockles in the Ribble, and the Government welcome and support this action.

My Lords, it is nearly 800 years since Magna Carta gave people the right to pick cockles from the shores of England. However, is it not now time that there was a better regime, in view of the chaos when the cockle beds were recently opened in the Ribble estuary near Lytham St Annes? Hundreds of people converged on the cockle beds, dozens had to be rescued and there was general chaos—and it was discovered that many people did not have permits. What will the Government do to help IFCA and other local agencies to protect the interests of the legitimate fishermen in that area who pick cockles so that they have a safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable business, which is being put at risk by what is going on?

As my noble friend will know, the situation is that North Western IFCA took the decision, in the light of the safety requirements, to protect lives. The Morecambe fishery is closed; the Ribble estuary fishery has just been reopened; and the price of cockles, at £700 a tonne, has encouraged a lot of people who do not have permits to go cockling. However, IFCA recognises the effect that the by-law will have on legitimate fishermen and is urgently looking into possible management measures that it could introduce to ensure a safe fishery and to operate it as soon as possible. The Government support IFCA in this endeavour.

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for raising this important issue. The House remembers the Morecambe Bay tragedy, which involved cockle picking. In the aftermath of that, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority was established, which has since made great progress in rooting out modern-day slavery and supporting a competitive industry. Can the Minister therefore reassure the House that the Government remain committed to a properly resourced Gangmasters Licensing Authority that will not be merged into a larger enforcement body?

We are indeed entirely supportive of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which plays a very important role in preventing the exploitation of workers. In this instance, the authority has not been particularly involved—there is no evidence of gangs working the fishery—but I am pleased to give the noble Lord the assurance he seeks.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is deep confusion in the north-west of England, in Cumbria and around Morecambe Bay, about the present situation? Although, rightly, most attention has been paid to the saving of human lives, the natural environment is very fragile. Can the Minister assure us that Defra is monitoring that situation to ensure that irreparable damage is not done to the cockle beds and to other related species?

My Lords, the noble Lord has clear local knowledge of the area. He will know that the Morecambe cockle fisheries are closed in order to encourage restocking. The Government, Natural England and the IFCA itself are very conscious of the need to preserve a proper balanced ecology, and that is exactly the reason for the closure of the Morecambe cockle fishery.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is right to remind us of the tragedy in Morecambe Bay, where 23 Chinese workers lost their lives. Does the Minister agree that IFCA needs to be robust in checking permits, that wherever possible permits should be issued to local fishermen, because that is their livelihood, and that where there is illegal fishing we should again be robust in arresting those people?

I thank my noble friend Lord Storey, who also has local knowledge of the area. The principles he espouses are ones which I personally would endorse, but this is of course a matter for the local IFCA, as the issuing of permits is in the hands of the North Western IFCA.

What testing is organised by the Environment Agency to test for contamination of the cockle beds by sewage outfalls from south Cumbria and the Morecambe Bay area?

I am not sure exactly what the procedures on that are, but I will certainly write to the noble Lord. Healthy food is obviously important, and shellfish infection can be very dangerous. The Government are mindful of that. I cannot tell the House the exact procedures at present, but I will write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

NHS: Hinchingbrooke Hospital

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what profit margin the contract between the Department of Health and Circle Health Ltd specifies for the running of Hinchingbrooke Hospital announced today.

My Lords, we do not know Circle's profit margin. I can, however, explain the basis on which Circle will be paid. Circle will effectively receive a success fee for bringing the trust into surplus and keeping it there. If Circle does not make the trust operate at a surplus, it will not receive any fee and it will lose money on the transaction. Circle will receive all surpluses up to the first £2 million of any year's surplus, and then a share of surpluses of more than £2 million to keep it incentivised to generate the further surpluses that the trust will retain.

I thank the noble Earl for that comprehensive explanation of taxpayers’ money. The issues I want to address are ones of transparency in process and criteria. Will the Minister provide details—I do not expect them this morning—of the meetings and minutes of meetings between Ministers, civil servants and Circle Health Ltd, and meetings with Mark Simmonds, MP, who is a paid adviser to Circle and a former member of the Conservative Front Bench? How will the Department of Health know whether this is a good deal? I can see how we will know whether Circle has made a profit or not. What is the objective here? Will a clinical as well as a financial audit be built in, and will those results be made public? In other words, how will the taxpayer know whether this is a good deal?

I will, of course, write to the noble Baroness with detailed answers to the first part of her question, which would take too long for me to answer now. I can say that this is a transfer of risk to the private sector. That is why it is a good deal. It is also a good deal in another sense, because patients will still have a hospital in Hinchingbrooke. This is a hospital that in common parlance could be described as a financial and clinical basket case. No NHS bidders were willing to take it on. When the previous Administration left office, only independent sector operators were in the frame to do so. We therefore knew at the last election that there would be an independent sector solution. I think that it is a win-win situation all round. It is good news for Hinchingbrooke patients, and I understand that under normal Freedom of Information Act rules the contract involved will be made available, subject to commercially confidential details being redacted.

My Lords, will the Minister please tell the House who was consulted in making this decision and what sort of support was found among the local community and hospital staff?

My Lords, there was extensive consultation, but the important point for my noble friend to understand is that this was a locally led process. Ministers—and, for that matter, civil servants in the department—were not involved in the decision process. The decision was made by the strategic health authority board and the recommendation then came to Ministers. However, I can tell my noble friend that support for this decision has been very widespread, not least among the medical community in the area.

My Lords, will this hospital continue to provide the same range of facilities as it does now? I understand that it does not provide A&E, for example, but will it be given the freedom to reduce the range of services in the future or will it have to carry on with the same services that it provides now?

My Lords, as part of the franchise, Circle is committed to maintaining the current level of services, including accident and emergency and maternity services, as long as commissioners continue to purchase them for local patients—a commitment made following a consultation in 2007. Any proposals for a significant change to the services provided at the hospital will be subject to public consultation, as with any NHS hospital.

My Lords, am I correct in deducing from what my noble friend has said that the choice was either no easy future for this hospital or the course that is now being adopted?

My Lords, so serious were the problems of Hinchingbrooke, both clinically and financially, that frankly the alternative to a franchising solution might have been closure of the hospital. I think that Ministers in the previous Administration reached that conclusion. It is one of the largest accumulated deficits that we have ever seen in any hospital. The problems facing Hinchingbrooke are therefore very significant.

My Lords, given the number of trusts that are in financial difficulties, can the Minister indicate whether he anticipates any further moves of this kind? If so, what processes would the department wish to see in place to ensure both value for money for the taxpayer and the highest possible clinical standards after any such transfer of responsibility?

My Lords, we do not envisage any other solution of this kind in any other trust. Of course, close monitoring will be necessary, and the contract with Circle is very clear in this instance—it has to perform according to the specification. As I said earlier, if it does not turn the hospital around, the financial risk up to £5 million of deficit, cumulatively, lies with it. I believe that this is extremely advantageous for the taxpayer. On the clinical side, of course the CQC will be extremely concerned to ensure that quality of care is not just turned round but significantly improved.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how often Circle is reporting to the CQC on the clinical outcomes, given that there have been clinical problems at this hospital, how often it is reporting on the financial turnaround and to whom it is reporting?

My Lords, if it is this easy for a private company to make the necessary economies to put this hospital back on course without compromising patient care, as was claimed by the spokesman on the “Today” programme this morning, can the noble Lord say why—a question that was not answered on that programme—the NHS could not make those economies itself?

The previous Government tried very hard to put an NHS solution in place. As I mentioned, by the time they left office no NHS provider was willing to step in and say that it was capable of turning Hinchingbrooke around—the problems were that serious. Given that situation, an independent sector solution was the only one on the table.

I do not want to sound like a penny-pinching accountant, but exactly how do you work out profit on a hospital? How do you work out a surplus? What about capital expenditure? What about depreciation? What about all these other things that are involved? Have all these things been worked out?

They have, my Lords, but the best way of answering the detail of the noble Lord’s question is to say that I will send him as much detail as possible from the contract, which factors in all the matters to which he referred.

My Lords, the Minister referred to an accumulated deficit. What is that deficit at this point? Will the contract require the new providers to ensure that that accumulated deficit is, over the years, paid off, or is it to be written off at the point at which the new provider takes over?

The accumulated deficit is approximately £39 million; part of the arrangement specifies that Circle will work towards paying off that deficit over the 10 years of the contract.

I understood the chief executive officer of Circle Health Ltd to say on television this morning that his organisation was a social enterprise on the Waitrose model. My understanding of Waitrose is that all employees are partners and that profits are either paid back to the partners or reinvested in the company. Is that the situation with Circle Health Ltd?

My advice is that Circle is part-owned by its employees; more than 50 per cent is owned by them. The remaining share of the ownership is by private sector investors.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

Moved By

That the debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Elton set down for today shall be limited to 1½ hours and that in the name of Lord Selkirk of Douglas to 3½ hours.

Motion agreed.

Parliamentary Constituencies and Assembly Electoral Regions (Wales) (Amendment) Order 2011

Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme Regulations 2011

Water Supply (Amendment to the Threshold Requirement) Regulations 2011

Motions to Refer to Grand Committee

Moved By

Motions agreed.


Motion to Take Note

Moved By

My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name. I have to point out to your receding Lordships that, had things been different on Tuesday, I would now be moving a Motion for Papers and nobody outside this Chamber would have had any idea what on earth I meant. Now, following acceptance of Proposal 8 of the Leader’s Group on working practices, I am simply drawing your Lordships’ attention to something, and the rest of the world can understand what we are doing. Your Lordships are therefore already taking part in a miniscule footnote to a small sub-paragraph of history: a micromove in the direction of transparency; a tiny part of a much larger tide. Incidentally, the very next day, the House agreed the proposal from the Privileges and Conduct Committee to amend the code so as to remind Members that its underlying purpose is to provide openness and accountability.

Openness and accountability are not the same, and neither on its own produces the other. In an admirable report to the Cabinet Office on privacy and transparency, Kieron O’Hara points out that the,

“transparency philosophy contains two separate and independent agendas”.

He calls them,

“the accountability agenda … and the information agenda”.

The first, the accountability agenda, is gradually providing the means by which formal internal systems of maintaining accountability are supplemented by informal external means. This means that, as well as Permanent Secretaries breathing down the necks of Deputy Secretaries, the public are increasingly looking over the shoulders of both. The language in both cases is strictly figurative.

The wealth of information now available to the public —by the “public”, I mean principally the electorate—makes them increasingly able to judge the performance not only of the government machine but of Ministers who are driving it. So the coalition Government’s early commitment to what I regard as a breathtaking acceleration in the move towards transparency and openness in government was courageous. It was consciously courageous. They said:

“The Government believes that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account”.

They claimed that, by so doing, they would also secure,

“significant economic benefits by enabling businesses and non-profit organisations to build innovative applications and websites”.

The economic benefits of this appear to be part of the second O’Hara agenda. I shall allow that to distract me from the intricate, fascinating and sometimes opaque subject of central government transparency to which I am sure my noble friend will do ample justice in her reply. Some of us were a bit doubtful whether what emerged from the mill of transparency would lend itself readily to the sort of process, or have the sort of effect, that the Government expected. Sceptics remained doubtful when, at the Centre for Public Scrutiny conference a year ago, my noble friend Lady Hanham said that,

“releasing the data in its rawest state”—

your Lordships should note “rawest state”—

“will enable businesses and non-profit organisations to build innovative applications and websites which will make the data easier to understand”.

Did not the Treasury have to hold seminars for financial journalists on how to understand and interpret COINS before and after the publication of those data? Government, it seemed, was to produce data much as a mill produces flour—it would be for others to turn it into bread and cake.

We waited—really not very long at all—and they did. What is more, they made them easier to use as well as easier to understand. To take a small example: the Department for Transport’s parking database was not citizen-friendly material when it was published, but, today, if you put Transport Direct into your web search engine, you can find the nearest car park wherever you are on this island. That is useful not just if you are a holidaymaker; it saves time and therefore money if you are a retailer trying to find somewhere where customers arriving by car can park and get to your shop and spend money there. The same website has brought in data from other sources, both public and private, with a view to making it a tool to plan every aspect of a journey by road or rail, by public or private transport.

That example is outside the accountability agenda, so let me turn to one that falls within it. I quote the Prime Minister, who wrote in the Telegraph on 7 July that,

“five years ago, it was made far easier for the public to access, understand and use data on survival rates following heart surgery. And guess what happened? Those survival rates rose dramatically”.

In that case, transparency easily outperformed formal internal systems of maintaining accountability. Death rates for some procedures fell by 20 per cent or more. That is a figure to remember. The NHS extended publication of outcomes as a result to more areas of surgery and, today, it estimates that we avoid 1,000 deaths every year by doing so and acting on it. Opening the professionals up to the public also opens them up to each other. In any trade or profession, this identifies best practice and spurs emulation. Spread across the medical disciplines alone, results such as this can bring enormous benefits not only to patients but to the Exchequer and, eventually, to our own pockets and purses. Spread across the whole spectrum, not just of central and local government activity but across amenable private enterprises as well, they may well achieve the savings and the growth, predicted at £90 billion by some, expected of them.

Transparency can be a double-edged weapon. The protection of confidentiality disappears as completely as a net curtain disappears when the light is turned on in the room behind it. However, confidentiality is often both desirable and necessary. The patient who wants to know why his operation went wrong and who would benefit enormously if the outcome of all similar operations could be aggregated and published on a database is the same patient who very much does not want his personal details to appear on a public website. There are difficulties here, not just in deciding where the border between confidentiality and transparency should lie, but in retaining the confidentiality of anything that it is decided should remain behind it. Data on huge numbers of those operations can be aggregated and anonymised, but anonymising processes can be reverse engineered, and techniques for this keep evolving, because there is a market for the sort of personal information that we wish to keep private. All data sets are subject to this potential risk. Getting it wrong could have pretty dreadful results. I would be grateful if my noble friend could tell us what response the Government are giving to the 14 recommendations of the O’Hara report on this subject—perhaps not individually, as it would take too long, but in general.

From Monday’s debate on Amendment 20 to the Health and Social Care Bill, the Minister will be aware of the anxiety in this House over the balance between benefit and risk when it comes to imposing, for instance, a duty of candour on hospitals. There are major transparency issues also in the Localism Bill, which is also before the House. The public should take comfort from the energy and thoroughness with which this House examines these changes before deciding whether or not to accept them, and in what form. Had there been fewer people getting up at Question Time, I would have drawn attention to that when we had the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, a few moments ago.

I spoke of the coalition’s early commitment to a breathtaking acceleration of this move to transparency. That was no exaggeration. In 2010, 2,500 government data sets were made available. This year, the number is already 7,500. That is a 200 per cent increase. I understand that this country now has more government data accessible to the public than any other country in the world except the United States of America, and they keep ahead of us only because they have a vast surface area and they count all the maps as data sets.

The move to transparency is an international phenomenon. A very important aspect, and one in which Great Britain has taken the lead, is the introduction to transparency in the giving of overseas aid—transparency not only at our end of the transaction, but at the recipient’s end as well. To get transparency at the recipient’s end is the present aim and is only just beginning. The International Aid Transparency Initiative —IATI—was launched in 2008 and started by establishing a common format of published accounting for aid programmes. In January this year we became the first country to publish DfID’s aid information entirely in this form. At the next meeting of IATI, in Busan at the end of this month, will Her Majesty’s Government be pressing other Governments to join the eight organisations now publishing in this format?

Next Tuesday, the first international aid transparency index will be published. We should be among the top three of the 58 donor countries included. We now want to establish the same procedures in recipient countries as we have here, a move which has been recommended by Transparency International among others. To that end, will the Government exert themselves to secure from the EU early legislation to make it mandatory for oil, gas and mining companies to publish in common form all payments they make to foreign Governments, disaggregated by project as well as country? Like Tearfund, I believe that there should also be a requirement to publish production volumes, pre-tax profits, employee numbers and labour costs. The people of countries from which immensely valuable commodities such as oil, copper, diamonds and so on are extracted by foreign or international corporations are often exceedingly poor. By these means we can, for the first time, bring to them the benefits that transparency is already beginning to bring us. When that happens, I will gladly seek once again to draw your Lordships’ attention to Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to transparency.

I have touched only the surface of the subject. I look forward to your Lordships contributions, especially that of the noble Lord, Lord Gold. I beg to move.

My Lords, I would like to remind your Lordships that all Back-Bench contributions are limited to eight minutes and that when the clock shows eight minutes, time is up.

I welcome the contribution that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I will pursue the topic in a different way, but will take up his opening remarks on accountability. He wanted to look at how Ministers are driving such a policy and will judge them on that. I want to address my remarks to that point on transparency. We can all agree that basic legislation has been passed by all Governments to move in this direction. Indeed, my own Government, in which I was in the Cabinet, introduced the Freedom of Information Act, which was probably the most important piece of the legislation to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred. Alongside that, there are other factors, such as the register of interests and the register of lobbyists—all these things play an important part in transparency and accountability. There is general agreement on that.

The one difference between this Government and my own of course is that we were able to pass legislation; this Government have been in office only 18 months, so we have to give time to see their legislative framework. We know already that the commitment to the register of lobbyists has not yet come about, although there is some talk that they may introduce that. We will wait and see. In all these matters, I am particularly concerned whether those who are driving this policy in this Cabinet are actually doing what they believe. The Prime Minister has said he wants to see a revolution in transparency. Why did he find it so difficult to tell us how much taxpayers’ money he spent on a kitchen and bathroom? I do not deny him that, but it is about transparency over taxpayers’ money. When he has his regular meetings with the Murdoch operation—not a company known for transparency—a meal becomes a private meal and we are not entitled to know what was discussed. That seems to set some of the tone.

Looking at other members of the Cabinet who are leading and driving this policy, the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Gove, had to admit that he was using private e-mails to avoid having to report under freedom of information rules. He was a Cabinet Minister, avoiding saying what he was doing. The Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Fox, has now gone but he certainly was not showing a great deal of transparency in his actions in pursuing a separate foreign policy. The latest example is the big argument between the Home Secretary and a senior civil servant—three inquiries are under way but there is a great big argument about transparency. That indicates there is not a great deal of commitment to be open in the information being made available about the action of those Cabinet Ministers.

The one I want to address my attention to is Mr Pickles —the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. He almost makes himself the champion of disclosure of information, but, as we know, quite recently he had a meal in the Savoy Hotel with Bell Pottinger and some other people involved with planning. He said, “Oh, I don’t have to declare that”—and he did not. He did not declare it in the register of interests, he fended off the Ministerial Code and he also declared in those cases that it was a private affair, as did the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron. We have found a new argument for non-disclosure—provided it is private, you do not have to disclose it. More important is what is discussed and said—that is what transparency is about. It undermines the credibility of those who say they believe in greater transparency. Bearing in mind that he makes this point about spending on a private meal, Mr Pickles has also gone out of his way to make clear that I was apparently spending money—something that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, also made a great deal of comment about—on a meal that I had in a casino in Australia. The Government at that time, in 2004, were looking at casinos as part of regeneration, and we insisted that we paid the bill. We used the government credit card. By the way, despite what the press implied, I have no credit card from the Government. I understood that Ministers did not have credit cards. It is the accountability officer who is in charge of those matters.

Nevertheless, a great deal of play was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, by Mr Shapps, the Housing Minister, and by Mr Pickles—all three of them party officials, either head of their party, vice-chairman or previous chairman. It seems to me that they are politically motivated people. Years ago I was accused of that and fought a Labour Government who claimed that I was politically motivated. I put my hand up; I was proud to be that. These three people should ask themselves whether they were not acting in a political way in making their statements about that matter. That is my concern, and I want to justify it by making this point.

All the headlines of the Tory press, working with the Tory Ministers, made the point that Prescott was gambling. I have never gambled in my life, except in politics; I have done a lot of that but I have not put money on things. The implication was that I was spending taxpayers’ money. That was a lie, untrue, although the words were carefully used. I could have taken action, but it was my department. It was as if I was handling my department’s expenditure card. My question is: what is the Government’s position on these expenditures? Currently it is not necessary to reveal information for sums below £500, only above £500. With the help of the Library, I have found that in recent announcements by the Cabinet Office and the Departments of Energy, of Health and of Justice, when asked whether they had a record of expenditures below £500, they all said, “No, because it is too expensive to find that kind of information”. Furthermore, they said that they cannot go as far back as 2007-08. Yet this department goes back to 2004 and 2006. If you consider every bit of expenditure, of course it is not too expensive.

I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, looked at that information, but it actually said that I spent that money in a restaurant. I admit that the department did spend money in the casino. However, if she is concerned about waste, as she often claims, why did she not investigate the figures to see that £2,000 was spent on that credit card for watches? Why the hell would anyone want to spend that sum buying four watches on a government credit card? Why did that not arise and cause concern? Apparently it did not. In those circumstances, why was it not investigated? The Government gave their own answer in July, saying that the evidence was that the cards were cloned. Why were they so eager to bring attention to me when they knew that the cards had been cloned? To me, that seems a pretty political operation. Given the evidence of cloning, why did they not carry out an investigation? Why did they not look into those circumstances? That is what concerns me. Other departments have said that they cannot go below £500, yet this department could go right back to 2004, with all the expense necessary to do it, and, when asked why it did not fully investigate, it said that it was too expensive. Then why did it go back to 2004? I will be answerable for whatever I have done, but it is the political motivation that worries me about these things.

It is quite right to look at expenditure and it is proper for Ministers and Members of Parliament to be accountable. However, if it is politically oriented, and if other departments are not following the same criteria as that department, and if they do not investigate the obvious problems, which they admitted probably came from cloned cards, please forgive me if I think it is political.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, will tell us whether she did investigate properly. I have asked the Cabinet Minister to do a proper investigation. Only if there is honesty can we have proper transparency. At the moment, it looks to be more politically motivated, and that is what concerns me. It has all the smell of hypocrisy. So let us be a bit more honest about it.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for securing this extremely important debate and I look forward with great interest to hearing my noble friend Lord Gold’s maiden speech.

Transparency and accountability are vital when companies are in receipt of public funding. The creative industries receive public funds in the form of grants: theatres, museums and art galleries receive funds from the Arts Council, and investment in films comes from the BFI. The commercial broadcasters obtain their revenue on the basis of lucrative licences awarded by Ofcom. Therefore, it is reasonable that the public should be entitled to expect these organisations to be accountable and transparent in all areas, including their equality and diversity policies, and to expect the funders and regulators to enforce this transparency on their behalf.

Unfortunately, they have fallen short on this. The Arts Council requires equality monitoring of the funding recipients but keeps the results secret, as does Ofcom of the companies which have been granted licences. Both merely publish sector-wide summaries. Before the BFI took over, the UK Film Council required equality monitoring of applicants for funding but did not require or collect data for productions when they went ahead. All that means that the public cannot find out what progress has been made in our creative industries regarding diversity and equality.

All major political parties recognise that the influence of broadcasting on society is so great that it should have higher standards with regard to equality and transparency, and be held to greater account. There is separate legislation covering the BBC and all parties in government have ensured that the BBC continues to have a strong equality and diversity remit. Previous Governments also ensured that the same practice applied to commercial broadcasting. The Broadcasting Act 1990, which established the Independent Television Commission to regulate commercial terrestrial television, includes Clause 38 which states:

“Any Channel 3 licence or licence to provide Channel 4 or Channel 5 shall include conditions requiring the licence holder … to make arrangements for promoting, in relation to employment … equality of opportunity between men and women and … persons of different racial groups”.

This clause was expanded to include disability in the subsequent Broadcasting Act 1996.

The ITC included in every licence a contractual obligation to carry out equality monitoring of staff and management, and this data was published annually. The public was able to see how well the licence holders were reflecting the diversity of the audiences they served and allowed those broadcasters who were making good progress to be congratulated.

The Communications Act 2003 extended this clause across cable, satellite and radio, and provided transparency and accountability on equality and diversity across commercial broadcasting. But in 2005, Ofcom, the successor to the ITC, decided that it would no longer enforce this clause. It chose instead to encourage “a climate of compliance” and concluded that allowing the public to see the licence holders’ equality monitoring data might discourage broadcasters from sending it in. This move clearly set back diversity and equality in commercial broadcasting. The 2009 report on equal opportunities published by Ofcom showed that the employment of women and people from culturally diverse backgrounds fell and that 16 companies had no information on whether any of their workforces had a disability.

There have been suggestions that the Equality Act 2010 on its own is sufficient to cover the broadcasters and that Ofcom should have no role with regard to promoting equality among the licence holders it regulates. But the Equality Act places no greater responsibilities on broadcasters than any other industry in the private sector and will not ensure the level of transparency that is absolutely essential in our extremely influential broadcasting sector.

The coalition Government have made clear that equality in employment is a priority. They have said:

“We need concerted government action to tear down these barriers and … build a fairer society”.

It also set out several clear commitments to transparency, such as:

“We will create a new ‘right to data’ so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public, and then published on a regular basis”.

The Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, has made statements in favour of transparency and accountability for what is spent on behalf of taxpayers.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:

“For too long those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account. This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture—and it’s called transparency”.

The Government’s commitment to equality and transparency should mean that all public bodies, including regulatory bodies, should be doing all that they can to promote equality and diversity, rather than taking the view that it is not their responsibility.

I believe a simple amendment to Section 27 of the Communications Act, to clarify what steps the regulator should take to promote equality of opportunity in employment by those providing broadcasting services, would demonstrate how well the mainstream media is succeeding in reflecting diversity and equality. For several years, the broadcasters have sent this data in for each qualifying licence, so this is not an additional proposal. This approach costs virtually nothing and will permit the greater accountability and transparency that has been lacking for the last six years. I urge the Government to take note of this suggestion. It will send a positive signal to young people from diverse cultures, who often feel excluded, that the coalition Government understand the additional pressures that they face, and are determined to insure that their voices are heard in the public sphere.

I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Government will ensure that organisations which receive public funding, or are in receipt of licences, are made to publish data fully demonstrating their commitment to transparency and accountability in the areas of equality and diversity.

My Lords, I add my welcome for this morning’s debate, which is on a theme of daily importance to the relationship between the state and the citizen. I, too, keenly look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gold. I shall concentrate on a specific, though crucial, element of the question before us: access to public records—the paper exhaust trail left by successive Governments. I shall focus in particular on those contents of the state’s archives deemed too sensitive to be released until at least 30 years have elapsed since pens were put to paper, minutes taken, memoranda composed and the typewriters, in those days past, rattled into action.

I must first declare an interest, as president of the Friends of the National Archives and professor of contemporary British history at Queen Mary, University of London.

A key aspect of the coalition’s transparency agenda that deserves an unqualified welcome and the hosannas of a grateful historical profession is the announcement, on 7 January 2011 by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that from January 2013 a 20-year rule for record release will replace the old 30-year rule created by the Public Records Act 1967 and brought into force in January 1972. The plan is that each year, starting January 2013, two years’ worth of archive will be opened at Kew until the 10-year gap between the old and the new rules has been closed. I am confident that this fresh documentary flow will fructify quickly in the form first of undergraduate, masters’ and PhD theses, and then in a fascinating new wave of well sourced books of contemporary British history which will swell through the bookshops.

Why am I so confident? Because this is exactly what has happened over the 19 years since the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, then Minister for Open Government in the Cabinet Office, announced what contemporary British historians came to call the Waldegrave initiative. The noble Lord instructed departmental record offices across Whitehall to re-review those files of interest to scholars which had been held back longer than the 30-year norm to see if they could now be released. The staff of the Whitehall records community and the National Archives rose magnificently to the task. When counting the yield finished in 1998, 96,000 files had been re-reviewed and declassified. I am sure that the total now must be double that.

The Waldegrave product amounted to a new currency with which historians could trade. Much of it embraced once ultra-sensitive Cold War material dealing with nuclear weapons policies, programmes and release procedures, civil and home defence, intelligence and security and transition-to-war planning. To open the World War III war books that had been declassified was to peer into Armageddon.

A stream of richly documented theses and well sourced books has resulted from the Waldegrave initiative. Of course, the documents by themselves are not enough—they never are. Whatever the policy area that gave them birth, their contents must always be blended with the personalities and backgrounds of those who wrote and read them, and the context of the times in which those readers and writers lived and breathed. The files must be revisited, too, with a sympathetic awareness of the hopes that lit the minds of their creators and the fears that darkened them. The historian must always avoid what Edward Thompson once called the “enormous condescension of posterity”. One goes back to the archives to understand the minds behind those memoranda, not to sneer at them.

The old files are an indispensible part of national transparency—our theme this morning. They are a very special phenomenon, a kind of frozen history. The scholar needs to apply a touch of the cryogenicist’s craft to them: you warm up the cold papers a little bit until their limbs begin to twitch; the files then start to breathe a bit—then you can begin to talk to them, ask them questions, bring them to life for yourself and your readers.

The time may well have come, as Whitehall cranks itself up to implement the new 20-year rule, to set in train what might be called “Waldegrave II”—to set in motion another trawl for files, which it was felt in the 1990s were too hot to be released, to see if they can now be transferred to the National Archives for public inspection. If the Government in these times of fiscal constraint were to mount such an initiative, building on the great success story associated with the name of the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, it would not only receive another loud hosanna of gratitude from the historical community but add lustre to the coalition’s transparency policy.

Still more might that policy be burnished if the Government accepted the Pilling report on official histories, which urged that new histories should be commissioned when funds allow, and the associated Hamilton report on the better marketing of official histories, once that is produced.

Catch-up history is a retrospective form of delayed freedom of information. A confident democracy such as ours should uncover its state paper trail as fully and swiftly as it can, warts and all. Such good practice is an antidote to conspiracy theory and the hijacking of our recent past for the purposes of crude political partisanship. The pursuit of such a policy of transparency is one of those rare activities that result in unalloyed benefit to scholars, the reading public and the quality and integrity of the state that enables it to happen.

My Lords, I begin by thanking your Lordships for the warm and generous welcome that I have received since entering the House in February. I would particularly like to thank all the officers and staff here who have assisted me greatly, not least by helping me to find my way around. As I regularly get lost, I fear that their help will be required for some time yet. I also wish to thank my supporters, the noble Lord, Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone, for their guidance on the day of my admission.

Following my admission, I decided that before making my maiden speech I would fully familiarise myself with the work of the House and perhaps pick up some debating tips from noble and experienced Members. That was my first mistake. That is not to say I did not receive tips—I received many. But as I sat listening to debates, I realised what a task lay ahead of me. The quality of debate, the thoroughness of preparation, the skill of delivery, the humour from many noble Members—the passion, as we have seen from the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, this morning—all made me reflect upon my own skills, or lack of them, in this area. My second mistake was not to realise that the longer I delayed, the greater would be my trepidation at the thought of speaking here for the very first time.

My first appearance in this Chamber was not in February this year. In fact, twice before, I appeared as solicitor to counsel who, wearing a long-tailed wig, silk stockings and buckled shoes, addressed the Law Lords from the Bar of the House, trying not to be distracted by Members of your Lordships' House who just wandered in from time to time to see what was going on. It never crossed my mind then that one day I would have the great privilege and honour to be permitted to cross the Bar and take my seat here.

I was not the first member of my old law firm, Herbert Smith, to be made a Peer. In fact there are now three former partners and one former articled clerk in the House. My noble friend Lord Hart of Chilton sits on the Benches opposite. My noble and learned friend Lord Collins of Mapesbury, will take his seat on the Cross Benches when he returns from the Supreme Court, and my noble friend Lady Shackleton of Belgravia—she is the former articled clerk and she has done quite well since leaving Herbert Smith—sits with me on this side of the House.

The firm has not yet managed to recruit anyone to the Liberal Democrat Benches or, indeed, to the Bishops' ranks, although for some reason there was a steady flow of solicitors who, perhaps having seen the error of their ways, left the law to become clergymen, so perhaps there is still a chance.

On 31 August last year, as part of its plea bargain with the US Department of Justice, I was appointed for three years as corporate monitor of BAE Systems plc to ensure that the company was operating in a compliant and lawful way. In taking up this role I followed in the footsteps of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who had been appointed to undertake an inquiry into the way in which the company conducted its business. The noble and learned Lord made 23 recommendations for improvement and change and I have been monitoring the company's progress in advancing these recommendations. I am pleased to say that, with just a few minor exceptions, where work continues all recommendations are now in place.

I mention this work not just to inform but more particularly because it has brought very much into focus the importance of transparency when conducting business, particularly international business, both as to the manner in which that business is conducted and in relation to a company's dealings with its customers. Competition is fierce and, regrettably, sometimes our British businessmen find themselves competing against others, operating to a different code of conduct, who seek to gain market advantage by unfair means and are sometimes assisted in that through a lack of transparency in the way in which other countries operate.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, has stated that this Government are committed to extending transparency to every part of public life. If I may respectfully say so, that is a commendable, if somewhat ambitious, objective. In his letter dated 7 July this year, the Prime Minister wrote:

“We recognise that transparency and open data can be a powerful tool to help reform public services, foster innovation and empower citizens. We also understand that transparency can be a significant driver of economic activity … with open data increasingly enabling the creation of valuable new services and applications”.

I fully agree with that view. Greater transparency results in Governments being more accountable. If we know how money is spent, we are better able to improve controls on spending and reduce costs. More particularly, companies will have a better opportunity to compete if they have access to public sector contract and procurement data that enable them to make informed decisions.

While there remains a considerable way to go before this society is truly transparent, this aspiration is one by which we here in the United Kingdom can provide a lead to the way in which other countries should operate.

With the passing of the Bribery Act 2010 this country is already leading the way in setting a benchmark for honest trading and dealing and, pleasingly, some countries appear to be emulating our example. I know from my work with BAE Systems that there are many international customers who have truly welcomed this approach to open and honest business. Many countries are raising their standards and demonstrating that they will award contracts to the business that truly deserves to win on merit, not as a reward for bribes or other improper behaviour.

I regret to say that there are some who feel that the Bribery Act goes too far and that for British industry to compete internationally it must be permitted to bend the rules a little, as allegedly happens elsewhere. Nevertheless, I hope and believe that this negative view will be proved wrong. If international companies stand firm against corruption, there will be progress even in those countries where corruption is thought to be rife.

So, just as the Prime Minister sets out what he and the Government want to achieve here, I respectfully suggest that we should be seeking to encourage our international friends to follow our lead and embrace transparency in the way in which they conduct public life. In this country we have many innovative and ambitious businesses ready to compete internationally and able to take advantage of such a change of attitude. Working together, major companies and this Government can achieve a great deal in this area. We should aim to create a new international code of conduct for trade that encourages transparency and outlaws corruption. The assistance that this will provide to British industry and businesses seeking to undertake international trade will be substantial.

My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gold, in his maiden speech. He comes to this House with a most distinguished career in the law and his speech today demonstrated to all noble Lords what an asset he will be to our debates. I understand that when he stepped down as senior partner at Herbert Smith, the law firm that he mentioned, a note was circulated to staff saying that,

“he has brought his own special type of magic to everything he has done since he walked through the doors of Herbert Smith”.

I am sure that all noble Lords who have heard his speech today will be looking forward to seeing more of that magic in this House.

I join previous speakers in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on securing this debate on such an important issue. Transparency is crucial in the securing the accountability that is fundamental for the health of a democracy. I also congratulate the noble Lord on what to my ears sounded like a most cogent case for transparency. I declare my interest as a member of the advisory council of Transparency International UK.

I start my substantive remarks by congratulating the Government and the responsible Minister, Mr Francis Maude, on their commitment to transparency through the open data programme. That was started by the previous Government, and was a particular project of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. I am sorry that in an otherwise compelling speech the noble Lord, Lord Elton, did not acknowledge that fact. On this point, I was also sorry that such a distinguished historian as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, in congratulating the Government on bringing in the 20-year rule, somehow omitted to mention that that rule was legislated for by the previous Government. Airbrushing history in this way is the opposite of transparency.

My Lords, I take the noble Lord’s stricture on the chin. He is absolutely right, it was an omission, but it was inadvertence rather than malice.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for setting the historical record straight.

I congratulate the Government on the way in which they have taken on the open data programme with real determination and vigour. I was going to rehearse some of the merits of it but the noble Lord, Lord Elton, did it far better than I could. This promises significant immediate constitutional benefits in transferring power to citizens and less immediate but potential longer-term benefits in improving value for money in delivering public services through greater engagement of users. It will also encourage innovative developments by not-for-profit organisations and businesses. Again, the noble Lord set out just how quickly people can take advantage of all the opportunities opened up by this programme. Confidence in the ability of the programme to deliver results must be increased by the setting up of the Public Sector Transparency Board and its distinguished and experienced membership, some of whom I had the privilege of working with when I was a Minister with an interest in this area in the previous Government.

While the Government should be given credit for their achievements in this area, elsewhere their commitment to transparency is not quite so clear. We have already heard from my noble friend Lord Prescott on one aspect of this, but I want to focus on the Freedom of Information Act. When I raised this issue in your Lordships’ House, the responsible Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, responded to my criticism by accusing me of rewriting history because:

“There has been an absolute tsunami of transparency. My right honourable friend Francis Maude has been frightening the life out of Whitehall and his ministerial colleagues by the way he has been forcing through transparency”.—[Official Report, 10/10/11; col. 1455.]

That is perhaps not the most fortunate choice of image for those of us who believe in the benefits of transparency but, more importantly, his response wrongly conflates the work on open data and on freedom of information. They are not the same. There is one critical distinction between them: the open data initiative, for all its considerable merits, is a top-down programme. The Government decide what data sets to release. In contrast, the Freedom of Information Act allows the citizen to decide what information they want to have, and then there is an established process that decides what should be released and what withheld.

Those are twin approaches to securing greater transparency and they ought to be complementary. However, there is an asymmetry in the Government's approach, with enthusiastic progress being made on open data while freedom of information has more or less stood still so far—in fact, in some key areas it is actually going backwards. We are a year and a half into the lifetime of this Government and so far they have done virtually nothing to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act beyond the actions already set in train by the previous Government.

I have been criticising the Government about this for many months so, after all these criticisms, I was delighted to see just this week that an exchange in the other place suggested that the Government are at last consulting on extending the Freedom of Information Act to other organisations. I hope that those consultations will be followed by action in the near future, and another 18 months or so will not be allowed to pass before anything happens.

On its own this lack of progress to date would be disappointing, but what is worse is that two landmark Bills brought forward by this Government, both referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, actively restrict the scope of the right of the citizen to secure information under the Freedom of Information Act. The Localism Bill envisages that a growing proportion of local authorities' functions will be carried out for them by other bodies under contract. As it stands, that will significantly weaken the right of the citizen to make freedom of information requests about those functions. I tried to help the Government to remedy what I hoped was an unintended consequence of their legislation by submitting amendments both in Committee and on Report, but all were rejected out of hand. As a result, far from increasing transparency as the coalition agreement promised, the Localism Bill decreases it.

That is not all. Under the Health and Social Care Bill, NHS work will be performed in future either by NHS bodies or by independent providers. Although the independent providers will not be directly subject to the Freedom of Information Act, they will be subject to a contractual obligation to co-operate with the commissioning bodies in answering freedom of information requests. So far, so good. However, the disclosure clause applies to information held on the commissioning body’s behalf,

“for the purposes of this Agreement”,

and the standard NHS contract goes nowhere near covering the full range of information currently available under the Freedom of Information Act from public authorities. It appears, for example, that any request for the provider’s correspondence with suppliers whose products have proved to be substandard are likely to be met with the response that this is held for the provider’s purposes, not the commissioning body’s, and therefore is not subject to disclosure.

It gets still worse. The shredding offence in Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act applies when an authority or a member of the authority’s staff deliberately destroys, amends or conceals a record after it has been requested in order to prevent its disclosure, but if a contractor shreds a record in order to avoid having to pass it on to the commissioning body to answer an FOI request, the contractor commits no offence. Again, if a public authority claims that it does not hold requested information, the Information Commissioner can investigate whether this claim is true; but if a contractor claims that it does not hold particular information, there is no mechanism for validating that claim. The contractor would not be subject to the commissioner’s jurisdiction. In fairness to the Government, they have not ruled out addressing these issues; they have simply pushed them into the long grass, beyond post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act, and there is no guarantee at all that even then they will take action.

In the mean time, which may stretch on for years, citizens will be denied access to information that they currently have about areas of potentially great concern to them, covering all the range of local authority services and what could turn out to be matters of life and death in the NHS.

In conclusion, the report card on this Government’s commitment to transparency and information is mixed. Where they remain in control of the data released to the people they serve, the commitment should be applauded. However, where the citizen is more in control, then this Government have been pedalling backwards in crucial areas. Sadly and regrettably, this tarnishes their record.

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Elton for moving this Motion. As he has said, the Government are committed to open government and transparency. The Prime Minister has set out a series of transparency commitments to be delivered within our key public services, including health, education, criminal justice, transport and government financial information. The open data consultation closed on 27 October and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something of the responses received and of the White Paper which will follow.

My noble friend Lord Elton referred to the report on privacy and transparency produced for the Cabinet Office by Kieron O'Hara. He stated that privacy is extremely important to transparency, but that they are compatible only as long as the former is carefully protected and considered at every stage. He came up with 14 recommendations, but there are still questions that I pose to the Minister. When does public interest outweigh privacy? Who makes these decisions? What happens when data held are out of date or incorrect? How will this be rectified?

Here in the House of Lords we have, through Written Questions, Oral Questions, debates and our Select Committees, opportunities to hold the Government to account. If we feel that the explanations given are inadequate, we can rephrase the question. Sometimes, however, the answer will be that the information requested is not held centrally or could only be answered at a disproportionate cost. Again, who decides? I hope that this Government's programme for transparency will ensure that this type of response will not be overused.

Personally, I have grave reservations about the way we use computer systems to achieve our goals and particularly the way in which we cede supremacy to them. I give an example: Defra's single farm payment system has been a nightmare since inception. For many farmers and parliamentarians, transparency in dealing with the Rural Payments Agency has been totally absent. Farmers have been heavily penalised for simple, explicable errors in their returns, while the computer systems have proved incompatible, partial or downright wrong. More than once, I and others have had to refer fairly simple solutions to these problems right to the top. Similar problems exist in other departments, and news items over the past 10 days or so have referred to both HMRC and the MoD, for example.

I ask the Minister what operating guidelines are given to government departments and to other arm’s-length bodies to make their work more transparent. Does she feel the present guidelines are adequate and if not, when will the situation be rectified? Clearly there will be other sections of Government where restrictions must remain. I think of our security services and the work of the police force, which could be compromised if unsuitable material came into the public domain. However, this does not mean that nothing needs to be improved. There are aspects which could be made better. The way in which CRB checks are applied needs to be carefully reviewed to ensure that those cleared for working with young children and older members of our community are not thereby freed from all normal scrutiny.

Although nobody else has mentioned it, I cannot be alone in wondering whether we have moved too far in the use of tick-box forms to replace observations and questioning of behaviour. It is very hard to obtain a sensible response when computer data indicate that all is well. Even when examination of those data confirms that there is a problem, it seems to be more normal to tweak the system than retrain or replace the person responsible. Will the Minister confirm that transparency will not remove the normal sanctions for inefficiency?

It is crucial that greater transparency works everywhere as it has already done successfully in some areas. My noble friend Lord Elton referred to the help and development that has come from sharing information in the medical system. Perhaps I, more than most, have reason to be grateful for all those who helped me. It is just a year ago since I had a triple heart bypass. Six years ago, British heart surgeons decided to publish data on how successfully they treated patients. They compared their results and methods to increase the quality and effectiveness of their work. Survival rates have improved by as much as 50 per cent. Sharing of expertise has brought huge benefits.

If greater transparency improves outcomes and helps people to find the right doctor, the right school for their children or benefits them in their daily life, it surely must be welcomed. Open data should bring greater choice. They must hold public service to account and, as we heard earlier, could help to stimulate innovation and enterprise through the sharing of knowledge. However, they could also be irrelevant, out of date, inaccurate, intrusive and an opportunity missed. I hope that this will prove not to be the case.

Might I also make a plea for those who live in rural areas? For all of us who live in urban areas, access to computers and information is readily available, but I remind the House again that there are huge swathes of this country where that access is just impossible at this stage. I hope the Minister will pass this plea on to other colleagues within those departments.

My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for opening this debate. I echo his comments about the modest contribution that your Lordships’ House can make to this. I also refer him to the decision in the last Parliament in the other place to establish Public Bill Committee procedures for legislation. The open evidence sessions that take place before a Bill is considered in Committee and gone through amendment by amendment is a welcome introduction.

I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Gold, to your Lordships’ House. He made an excellent maiden speech and his point about transparency in international business affairs was important. It echoed the point of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about transparency in international aid. By definition, more transparency in international affairs will lead to better governance and perhaps more democratic processes. There are some signs of that. Perhaps in what has come to be known as the Middle East spring, there is an indication that greater transparency can have a beneficial effect.

The previous Government, of which I was a member, committed themselves to transparency and like my noble friend Lord Prescott I am proud of the freedom of information legislation. As far as transparency and good governance are concerned, the House of Commons Committee report of 2008-09 on good governance made the point that transparency is a vital prerequisite for any stem of ethical regulation and is the best way of ensuring that office holders have the broader public interest in mind when they spend public money or perform other public duties.

I welcome this Government’s commitment to transparency. However, it is one thing to say that you are committed to transparency; the question is, do you actually do transparency? I have to say that this is open to question. For example, in the case of the Public Bodies Act, which has closed down many public bodies and brought functions back into central departments, transparency is being lost. We are moving from public bodies with open board meetings, where a lot of information comes into the public domain, back into government departments. Transparency will be lost. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ludicrous proposal to abolish the Youth Justice Board. The idea that the protection of young people in our prisons is best done by officials, rather than by a board that brought focus, accountability and transparency, is to be very much regretted.

I was very interested in the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, relating to diversity and equality in the Arts Council and Ofcom. She asked the Government whether they would agree to an amendment to the Communications Act. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, will be able to be positive on that point. I also hope that she will accept the invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, to establish a new project—the second Waldegrave project or the first Warsi project. It seems well worth having a further trawl through the papers that were not released under the 30-year rule. I am glad that the noble Lord acknowledged the previous Government’s efforts in relation to the 20-year rule. I reckon that means that the ministerial office of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was covered by the 30-year rule but this means a speed-up. I am sure he will be delighted that all his actions will come into the public domain very soon.

My noble friend Lord Wills made a very important point on the Freedom of Information Act. The Government have been slow to make further progress with FoI legislation. We are now told that there is a consultation. I should like the noble Baroness to say when she expects improvements and reforms to be made. I hope we will not go into a two or three-year consultation period before any change is made. I hope the Minister will answer my noble friend on the issue to do with the Localism Act and awarding contracts to other bodies. If we are moving to a situation in which, essentially, local authorities become enabling authorities but cease to run many services themselves, it is essential that the bodies to which they contract are fully covered by FoI legislation.

It is the same in relation to the Health and Social Care Bill. I will come to the decision announced today about Hinchingbrooke. It is clear that we are moving into a situation where many more private sector providers will be providing services to the NHS in the future. It is also clear, as my noble friend said, that the current Bill does not allow much information about that to come into the public domain. I am sure that my noble friend will table an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill; I certainly hope so. It is not good enough to say that we will simply wait to see how the legislation pans out. By the way, I can tell the Government that I know how the legislation will pan out: it will not pan out very well for the NHS or its patients.

On the NHS, I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the outcome information that came from the initiative taken by heart surgeons, led by Sir Bruce Keogh, who is now medical director at the Department of Health. There is no doubt that it had a hugely positive impact in improving the outcome of coronary care services. What concerns me about that is how few other specialists in the health service have followed that example. We need to ask some of the other specialties why they have not followed the example of their cardiac colleagues.

I welcome the Government’s intention to institute a duty of candour on the NHS. I am the chair of an NHS foundation trust that has just opened its board meetings to the public. It is invigorating and means that real issues about staffing and quality are out there. I welcome that; it leads to a much improved relationship with our public and, incidentally, our staff. However, I come back to the issue raised today by my noble friend Lady Thornton. Why did the noble Earl, Lord Howe, not answer her Question about contact between ministerial circles and the company involved in the Hinchingbrooke contract? It was a straight question. If this Government were really transparent we would get an answer.

My noble friend Lord Prescott mentioned the personal e-mail addresses used by Mr Gove, the Education Secretary, and his staff, bypassing FoI rules. What about Dr Fox and the grey area over ministerial meetings with lobbyists? What about the delay in setting up a register of lobbyists? Clearly, my noble friend Lord Prescott has identified this problem of a redefinition of private activities by Ministers to get around the rules. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to respond to the points that my noble friend put to her.

In thanking the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for securing this debate, I do not know whether he is happy with how it has turned out. It has certainly been very interesting. We welcome the Government’s commitment to transparency. However, I fear that their message to other parts of the public sector is, essentially, “You be transparent but we as Ministers will exclude quite a lot of our activities from the public domain”. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to respond to that.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for tabling this debate, which has proved to be wide-ranging. I also thank the other noble Lords who have made contributions today, raising important points, challenges and even kind plaudits. This is a timely debate because we are at an important milestone in our journey towards transparency and open data. I will briefly remind noble Lords of the background to this agenda and then give a quick round-up of progress to date. I will then deal with some of the specific points raised in the debate and cast a forward look towards the Government’s ambitions for transparency, which will be set out in a White Paper to be published in the spring.

In opposition we developed plans for a more open way of doing government. We envisaged a time when people knew that they could easily and quickly find out: which parts of government and which initiatives cost what, whether on a regional or national basis; who in government, whether a civil servant or a special adviser, did what and what they were being paid; which government contracts were coming up, and so on. We had a vision that people could choose public service provision using the same customer feedback techniques that so many of us are now used to when, for example, researching hotel options or flights on TripAdvisor, or shopping on Amazon.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, gave the example of the Society for Cardiothoracic Surgery, which reported that mortality in coronary surgery had fallen by a fifth over five years. The professional body attributed this result to the public reporting of outcomes. We are not just talking about cost accountability; we are talking about data that save lives through the spread and adoption of best practice. As I said, it is a journey. Open data are the means and open government is the end.

Since the election we have ensured that we progress on this journey at great speed. In May of last year, just two weeks into the coalition Government, the Prime Minister sent a letter to all Secretaries of State, setting out the Government’s specific commitments on transparency. Much of the data that we released initially were about Whitehall, Westminster, people and money. However, important though this is, the example of cardio surgery shows vividly that there is more to open data and transparency than accountability. Following the success of the previous year’s data releases, on 7 July 2011 the Prime Minister publicly set out a second series of further open data commitments, targeting key public services, including health, education, criminal justice, transport and more detailed government financial information.

Today we have an astonishing amount of data on, with over 7,500 data sets, more than any other comparable transparency service in the world. Much of this is big, complex and not necessarily accessible to the public. In many cases it is used by the professionals, whether that is the surgeons I described earlier or local authority commissioners, NHS managers, school authorities or welfare services.

We are also seeing data being repackaged and released for citizens to use. For example, FixMyStreet helps users to find the right telephone number or form to report local problems, ranging from dog fouling to broken street lights to pot holes. Since its launch, FixMyStreet has received more than 90,000 citizen reports. The website allows users to use offences reported in their locality by entering a street name or a postcode. It includes a range of offences such as theft, shoplifting and criminal damage and has received more than 430 million hits since its launch. By May of next year this website will show what has happened after a crime has been reported to the police and you will be able to track that crime’s progress through the courts.

We can also use public data to build economic value, stimulating innovation and enterprise in the UK’s knowledge economy. A growing market place has already sprung up in the health sector as a result of open data and transparency. Companies such as Dr Foster and CHKS are at the front of this growing industry with an estimated total value of around £50 million per annum. Estimates of the total potential growth contribution of open data-based markets vary from about £16 billion per annum to about £90 billion per annum.

The Chancellor’s and Business Secretary’s growth review on 29 November will contain a series of commitments to liberate new data to support enterprise and growth in sectors as diverse as life sciences and digital technologies. In addition, a public data corporation will bring together data from government bodies such as HM Land Registry, the Met Office and Ordnance Survey into one organisation, providing easily accessible public information as well as driving further efficiency in the delivery of public services.

I will now respond to some of the specific issues raised by noble Lords in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised the issue of the recommendations of the O’Hara report and the outcome of the open data and public data corporation consultations. These issues are being seriously considered and are broadly welcomed by the Government. We are positive about the specific recommendations and we will respond in a White Paper, which is due to be published in spring.

In relation to international aid, the Government believe that greater aid transparency is essential to efforts to improve results from development to co- operation worldwide. The Secretary of State will be seeking agreement by donors to implement the aid information standard developed under the UK-led International Aid Transparency Initiative.

A question was raised in relation to EU-level action to improve transparency in the extractive sector to match the standards being set in the UK. The Government are supportive of that.

My noble friend Lady Benjamin raised an extremely valid point. It is amazing to see how shining a light on the decisions that people make can have a positive impact on behaviour, including behaviour around the employment and engagement of people from diverse backgrounds. I will write to her in relation to the specific amendment that she proposes.

The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, raised yet more benefits of a drive towards transparency and data release. I will ensure that his comments are seriously considered.

I welcome the comments of my noble friend Lord Gold and congratulate him on a both humorous and thought-provoking maiden speech. His work for the Conservative Party is hugely appreciated; he brings much wisdom, calmness and sound judgment to his role as chairman of the Conservative Party disciplinary committee.

I am sure that my noble friend listened carefully to the substance and style of this morning’s contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Prescott. I am disappointed that the noble Lord feels that disclosure has been somewhat political; the public have a right to know and the Government are committed to openness. He raised a specific question about the level of £500, which was established as a minimum requirement for departments to release information. DCLG, in line with its past releases, chose to release information on transactions lower than £500. The point that the noble Lord made about the casino dinner was released in response to a Parliamentary Question to DCLG, which was answered factually. Sir Gus O’Donnell has received a letter from the noble Lord, and DCLG will respond directly to him in the next couple of days.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wills, is encouraged by the Government’s consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act. The Government have introduced provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Bill to extend the Freedom of Information Act to companies wholly owned by multiple public authorities, whereas currently the Act applies only to companies wholly owned by a single public authority. This will bring more than 100 more bodies within the scope of the Act. We are not stopping there. We are currently consulting on the possible inclusion of more than 200 bodies within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, on the basis that they provide functions of a public nature—these include harbour authorities, exam boards, the Local Government Group and the NHS Confederation, to name but a few.

Before the Minister leaves that point, can she answer the question asked by my noble friend Lord Hunt about when the Government will take action on the consultation that she has just mentioned?

The Government’s recent open data consultation consulted on an extension to the types of organisations to which the open data policy could apply. The Freedom of Information Act will also be subject to post-legislative scrutiny to see how it is working in practice. Further policy in this area will be developed. At this stage I do not have a specific timeframe, but I can write to the noble Lord once I have further information.

My noble friend Lady Byford asked some important questions about how what we are trying to achieve appears to be hindered by how we achieve it. The Government are committed to achieving the very benefits that she highlights and will give serious consideration to the challenges she raised, which could stand in the way of those benefits. She also raised an important point in relation to privacy, and I can assure the noble Baroness that we will not extend transparency at the expense of privacy. Personal data will be handled in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, raised some important points about politicians. All politicians, all of us who are in the public sphere, must be committed to the very basis and essence of this agenda; otherwise, we will be accused of hypocrisy, not just by each other across these Benches but by the public. I can assure him that all those in this Government are committed to that very basis of transparency and openness. Our goal is for participation and engagement—

I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am glad she said what she said, but does she accept that if Ministers redefine some of their meetings as private that is not being transparent?

I completely take the point that the noble Lord makes. I repeat that we all bear the responsibility to make sure that what we say is what we do. I hear what he says, and indeed comments made by other noble Lords, and I will make sure that they are heard by all of us who are in this Government.

Our goal is for participation and engagement from an engaged society that knows it has a role to play in shaping the world in which we live. This is what open government means. Noble Lords may remind me that this is not a new idea, but what makes it a timely one is the increasing focus on how society works and how public services are actually delivered. What makes it achievable is the continuing democratisation of technology, with almost 80 per cent of households now having access to the internet. The fact that some households do not have internet access was raised in this morning’s debate and I will take that back.

Providing easily accessible data allows people to choose what services are right for them, localities to determine what their communities need and the public sector monopoly on provision to be opened up. This is a sea change in the relationship between the state and the individual. We are moving from a “We give, you get” approach to public services, to an “I choose when and where” approach.

This Government have every intention of putting into practice the ambitions they stake out on the global platform of OGP. We have an obligation to continue to lead this agenda and to use our successes to bring others with us. I hope that I have whetted noble Lords’ appetites in relation to our joint chair of the OGP, for the role we have to play in the growth review later this month, for the White Paper due in the spring and for what I think is an exciting and fast-developing agenda.

I conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his earlier remarks and for giving us the opportunity to discuss the range of possibilities that our transparency agenda offers to all of us.

My Lords, I understand from the Table that the change in the nature of the Motion does not deprive me of the opportunity of replying briefly to the debate. I should like to start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Gold, on a most interesting and excellent maiden speech, in which he confirmed Herbert Smith’s reputation as a formidable nursery of nobility and brought to our attention the importance of transparency in commercial, as well as national, transactions.

I will not pick up all the points everyone made, but I must reply to the noble Lord, Lord Wills. I readily accept that I should have been more courteous in accepting the efforts of the previous Government, but I remind him that what I actually said was not that the present Government invented transparency but that they started an acceleration of the movement—a breathtaking acceleration. I was careful to give 2008 as the date of clarity being brought to the surgical procedures to which I referred. I acknowledge that this movement is not new, but it is very much better and stronger.

Three specific points were raised that are worth following: the possibility of Waldegrave II; the need to look again at Section 27 of the Communications Act; and the importance of accessibility to transparent information if some of our citizens are not to be disenfranchised.

The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, made a forceful contribution, in which his expression was shared between his voice and his hands—the latter not always as courteous as his voice. However, his point was taken on board by my Front Bench, I am sure.

I conclude by saying that the purpose of this debate was to draw attention to the Government’s commitment to this breathtaking acceleration in transparency, and to point out that it has effects that spread through the whole polity and economy of this country. It raises highly sensitive issues of privacy, which have been discussed and raises the question that was central to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Prescott: what actually is private? As I said at the outset, drawing the line is very tricky and technical, and it is important that it should be drawn impartially.

In their present initiative, the British Government are world leaders, as we have already seen. They are extending the benefits of transparency to disadvantaged countries in the world, which is entirely admirable. In the process, the Government are releasing an enormous possible gain for our economy—up to £90 billion, we are told. I therefore congratulate my noble friend Lady Warsi and the right honourable Francis Maude for the part that they have played in pushing forward this initiative.

Motion agreed.

Remembrance Day

Motion to Take Note

Moved By

That this House takes note, on the eve of Remembrance Day, of the debt which our nation owes to all those who have sacrificed their lives in defence of the realm.

My Lords, it is a great privilege to begin this debate on the eve of Remembrance Day. We are here to recognise the debt that our nation owes to all those who have sacrificed their lives in the defence of the realm. In the Royal Gallery there is a Book of Remembrance in honour of Peers and servants of the House, and of their next of kin, who died in action with the British armed services in two world wars. I am proud that the names of my mother’s oldest brother and of my father’s youngest brother are inscribed on its pages. The former lost his life in action as a Grenadier Guards officer just before Dunkirk, and the latter, who was a squadron leader, was hit by anti-aircraft fire when bringing back photographs of enemy military installations, just before the American liberation of southern France.

We honour the supreme sacrifice made by so many servicemen and women on behalf of their country, and we owe it to them that their actions should continue to give inspiration to future generations. No one understood this better, I believe, than President Abraham Lincoln when, after the Battle of Gettysburg on 19 November 1863, he appealed to his war-torn country never to forget the sacrifices made in pursuit of a great cause. He said:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain”.

He went on to emphasise the noble objective for which they had died, which was,

“that this nation under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that Government of freedom; and that Government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the Earth”.

The same sentiments should surely resonate with us. We too have to rededicate ourselves to ensure that those in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth who have made the supreme sacrifice, did not die in vain. We too have to make certain that their unfinished work in sustaining the cause of freedom and promoting justice is continued.

Speaking for those who died in the First World War, a Canadian surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in his poem, “In Flanders Fields”, gave the same message:

“To you from failing hands we throw

The torch: be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep

Though poppies grow

In Flanders Fields”

We have wider responsibilities too. If we put ourselves in the shoes of a young soldier in the front line going in to battle, he would expect us to look after his wife and family if he does not return or is seriously wounded. Therefore, I would like to repeat my support for the Government’s action in enshrining the principles of the military covenant into law and their promise to inform Parliament annually on what is being done to meet the requirements and special circumstances of servicemen and women. I strongly support the plan that the report should cover issues such as housing, health and education.

I believe that we have to keep in mind not only the sacrifice made by those who gave their lives in defence of the realm but the practical needs of those who have been bereaved in two world wars, in the Falklands and much more recently as a result of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year is the 40th anniversary of the War Widows Association, and I welcome the Minister's recent assurance that opportunities for wives to visit graves will be continued, and I hope that he will respond constructively to their other concerns. It is a tragic fact that 16,000 members of the armed services have lost their lives serving since the end of the Second World War. They are commemorated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire; and those who fell in two world wars are commemorated on many thousands of war memorials throughout the United Kingdom.

I say to the Minister how strongly I deplore the appalling actions of those who vandalise such monuments because they wish to sell plaques and statues to unscrupulous scrap metal dealers, to be melted down. This desecration has to be stopped. I hope that the Minister will consult urgently with other departments and the British Transport Police to establish what concerted action should be taken to prevent those shameful crimes.

When we honour the dead, we must not at the same time forget the many who return home wounded. Those who do not return would expect nothing less. Here, I pay tribute to the surgeons in the hospital at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, which I had the opportunity to visit with the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I also praise the work of the dedicated doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals at Headley Court, who fit new limbs and boost morale with such impressive results. Many of the wounded are suffering terrible injuries, and we must continue to improve the accessibility of support for them and their families. The charity with which I am involved, the Scottish Veterans’ Garden City Association, is dedicated to providing purpose-built homes for ex-servicemen and women who are disabled. The present total is 612, and more are planned.

Remembrance can take many forms. I have always been moved by the true story of an eight year-old girl in the south of England during the Battle of Britain. She saw an RAF fighter pilot in his parachute being machine-gunned by a Messerschmitt 109 as he drifted towards the earth over Ashford in Kent. She felt that that had been a terrible price he had had to pay for protecting her. Many years later, Jean Liddicoat, as she had become, was a grandmother living in Staplehurst. Her grandson questions her about the Battle of Britain, which he is studying in school. She answers him, and he says to her that in the cemetery next door is the grave of an unknown airman which has been left neglected and forgotten. She goes to see it and, sure enough, on the headstone are the words,

“An airman of the 1939-1945 War … Known unto God”.

Jean tidies up the grave and makes it look beautiful. Then she starts making inquiries. After eight years of investigating, she discovered that on 5 September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, eight RAF pilots were killed, but only six were identified. She therefore knew that the unknown airman must be one of two men. She also discovered that he had in his possession at the moment that the Spitfire plunged into the ground a half-hunter silver pocket watch. Its mechanism had stopped at the moment of impact. What was more, the unknown airman’s sister, Margaret, who was approaching 92 years of age, had come forward and identified the watch as being exactly the same as the one given to her brother.

Jean Liddicoat, to whom I spoke this morning, now knew who the airman was, and she found out as much as she could about him. His name was Freddie Rushmer, and he was a flight commander of a squadron which had more confirmed victories in the Battle of Britain than any other in both the RAF and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. On the day on which he did not return from his mission, there was absolutely no time to go searching for a fallen comrade in the war being waged for Britain's very existence.

Freddie Rushmer had never had a funeral service, so one was arranged at All Saints Church in Staplehurst. RAF officers from No. 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron and representing the present Tornado squadrons attended, but did not expect a large congregation nearly 60 years after the Battle of Britain. When they arrived, they found to their astonishment that the church was full to overflowing with local residents—some were standing outside. Whoever the unknown airman was and whatever he did, they wanted to remember the man whom they believed had died to safeguard their freedoms, who had died for them.

As I said, remembrance can take many forms: a little boy proudly marching on Remembrance Sunday, wearing the medals of the father he has lost; a family seeking out one cross among thousands in a distant war cemetery; and the people of what is now Royal Wootton Bassett choosing their spontaneous way of paying their respects as the fallen were brought home through their town.

Those who died in defence of the realm did not all do so on great battlefields. Many men and women showed the same levels of courage and commitment in secret, and often in darkness, far behind enemy lines. In these days of equality between men and women, we remember not only the women who wore uniforms but those who were parachuted into enemy-occupied Europe in the Second World War on difficult and dangerous missions. The Special Operations Executive had 55 women agents, 13 of whom died in action or in concentration camps. There is a memorial to all SOE agents just across the river from our Chamber, with a bronze sculpture of Violette Szabo. Her face and expression depict her enormous bravery and determination. She was captured, tortured and killed in Ravensbrück concentration camp, but she told them nothing. Later, the very young daughter she left behind grew up to write a most moving account of her mother's heroism. Underneath the memorial are the words:

“Their names are carved with pride”.

On the wider role of women and warfare, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, campaigned for the magnificent memorial in Whitehall which was unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen. The noble Baroness said then:

“This monument is dedicated to all the women who served our country and the cause of freedom in uniform and on the home front”.

The words of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, spoken on the BBC on 14 July 1940, were prophetic and applied to countless victims as well as to those who had the opportunity to fight. He said:

“There are vast numbers, not only in this Island but in every land, who will render faithful service in this war, but whose names will never be known, whose deeds will never be recorded. This is a War of the Unknown Warriors”.

The debt of gratitude which we owe to all those who sacrificed their lives is inestimable. It places a great responsibility on us to carry on their unfinished work and, as President John F Kennedy, put it, to create and sustain the rule of law, where the powerful work for justice, where minority rights are protected and where peace will be preserved.

Finally, I commend the wise, farsighted and enlightened words of the Royal British Legion, which tells us that the poppy and Remembrance Day have come to represent,

“war, peace, hope and sacrifice but with a stubborn sense of regeneration”.

I beg to move.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, both on securing this very timely debate and on the eloquent and moving speech to which we have just had the privilege of listening. It is both heartening and humbling to see how seriously we as a nation continue to take Remembrance Day. When I was younger, there were serious discussions about whether events around 11 November should come to an end as the memory of the Second World War faded from most people's lives, but this weekend millions of people all over the country will be either taking part in or watching services of remembrance. It is right that that should be so, and it is very appropriate that we should have this debate.

I have no financial interest to declare in this debate, but I remind the House that I am the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group. I shall speak about two matters. The first is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, referred, which is the desecration of war memorials by scrap metal thieves. The second subject, if I have time, concerns preparations to commemorate the centenary in 2014 of the outbreak of World War I. Both those matters have been the subject of Oral Questions which I have asked recently in your Lordships' House.

I start with the subject of metal theft, and endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, said. The situation is now almost out of control. The increase in the world price of scrap metal, particularly copper, has made it a lucrative crime. It is also one that it is easy to get away with, mainly because of the inadequacies of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. The absence of a proper licensing system for dealers, the use of cash to settle transactions and the imposition of absurdly low penalties for breaches of the law have all combined to produce the present epidemic of crime.

I shall resist the temptation today to speak at length about the disruption to train services caused by cable theft on the railways, the damage to churches as a result of the stealing of lead from church roofs or the attack on public services in the electricity and telecommunications industry, but I want to say something about the desecration of war memorials. At Prime Minister’s Question Time last week, Mr Cameron described it as,

“an absolutely sickening and disgusting crime”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/11/11; col. 918.]

In an article in the Daily Telegraph on Monday this week, the Mayor of London wrote about how the plaques on a war memorial in Sidcup commemorating the deaths of 342 in both world wars, including that of Lieutenant George Cairns, who won the Victoria Cross in an act of extraordinary bravery in the Burma campaign in 1944, had been, in Boris Johnson’s words,

“brutally jemmied off and sold for scrap”.

Your Lordships may recall that in the exchanges on my Oral Question on 3 October, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, whom I am delighted to see in his place, spoke about the theft, just a week before, of 14 brass memorial plaques from Carshalton war memorial. There are countless other examples all over the country.

Following my Question, I have received scores of letters and e-mails all asking for the law to be changed. My response to that on 19 October was to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House long enough to know that the chances of seeing a Private Member’s Bill through to enactment are pretty remote unless it has already been passed in the other place or the Government take it over. I am therefore, as an insurance, pursuing an alternative route with the help of the Public Bill Office. I hope to be able to announce something soon in the hope that I shall be able to count on the Government’s support for what comes forward. I am looking with some intensity at the government Chief Whip as I say this.

The other matter that I wish to raise today and that is also directly relevant to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, is the question of how we commemorate the centenary in 2014 of the outbreak of World War I. This has been concerning the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group for some considerable time. Following my Question on 22 March to the noble Lord, Lord Astor, I was invited by Professor Hew Strachan to a seminar on preparations for 2014 at All Souls College, Oxford. It was attended by the DCMS and MoD Ministers, Ed Vaizey and Andrew Robathan, plus a large number of representatives from France, Flanders, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and India, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Imperial War Museum.

From listening to those discussions, it was very clear that other Governments are far more advanced with their planning than are ours. The Government of Flanders, in particular, has an amazing programme planned for 2014 and beyond. They are investing €15 million in 44 infrastructure projects, including the renovation of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper, the expansion of the Memorial Museum in Passchendaele, and the construction of a museum garden and the opening of war sites in Zonnebeke. They are also spending a further €5 million on events such as music festivals and exhibitions. Initiatives that they are planning here in Britain include the creation of a peace garden at the Guards Museum in Birdcage Walk, with earth taken from Passchendaele, and an exchange programme for young people.

I cannot speak too highly of the Flanders Government’s commitment to war heritage and to what is now rightly called “peace tourism”. Already they welcome 350,000 visitors a year to Flanders, most of them from Britain and the Commonwealth. Thousands participate each evening in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ieper. Now, as 2014 approaches, they are looking to do much, much more, and I think we should thank them for that.

At the all-party group meeting to which I referred, it became increasingly evident that we in Britain were in danger of being left behind as other countries pressed ahead with their arrangements. The group asked me to write to the Prime Minister expressing concern at the apparent lack of preparedness here and saying that we need a government policy and a clear political lead, with a decision on which government department is to lead on the issue. I received an encouraging reply from Mr Cameron on 18 August, which said that, while there were no detailed plans yet, discussions were “ongoing across Whitehall”. Mr Cameron said that he understood our concerns that it is not yet clear where departmental responsibility for organising events across the UK will lie.

Happily, on 2 November—just last Wednesday— No. 10 made the very welcome announcement that Dr Andrew Murrison MP has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s special representative and co-ordinator for the commemorations to mark the centenary of World War I. This is good news. I shall be meeting Dr Murrison next Tuesday, and he will be addressing a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group on 6 December. I need hardly say that all Members of your Lordships’ House and of the other place will be very welcome to attend.

I should be grateful if, when the Minister replies to this debate, he could say a little more about what Dr Murrison’s role will be. We really wish him well. We want to work with him and we want to make quite sure that we catch up with what other Governments are doing so that we commemorate this very important centenary in the right way. It will start in 2014 and will undoubtedly run for the four years through to 2018.

My Lords, first, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas on securing this debate, on his excellent opening contribution and, as we all know, on his very deep commitment to our Armed Forces.

I was privileged and proud last year to attend the festival of remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall as a guest of the Royal British Legion—something that I have always wanted to do. I was similarly privileged and proud in the early 1980s, when I was a junior Defence Minister, to have an official position at the Cenotaph.

As a constituency Member of Parliament for 13 years, I used to regard remembrance weekend as something very special. My constituency in north-east Lancashire—Nelson and Colne, which later became Pendle—was a very patriotic area and one of substantial recruitment. I always used to attend the legion concert, as well as service parades in the morning and afternoon. When one attended some of the smaller community services, it was very sad and distressing to see the names of so many individuals from one family who had lost their lives, particularly in the Great War—the ghastly, pointless First World War. My own great-uncle, who served in the Liverpool Scottish Regiment, was killed on 3 July 1917 aged 23 and is buried in the Brandhoek Military Cemetery in Belgium. What concerned me during those 13 years was the decline, as I saw it, in the numbers attending the individual memorial services. Indeed, I suggested to our local authority that perhaps we should have one major constituency service in the morning, allowing the smaller events to take place in the afternoon.

However, in recent years we have seen a substantial sea-change in the attitude of the public to our Armed Forces following, I think it is fair to say, a realisation that our troops whom we initially sent into Afghanistan were ill equipped and substantially underresourced. The media got behind our forces and, of course, considerable improvements have been made to their kit. Now, the kit is probably the envy of the world in many respects.

As has been referred to, the Government enshrined the military covenant in law during the passage of the Armed Forces Bill. I think it would be fair to say that the combination of a sympathetic and sensible Minister and pressure from a number of noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords improved the Bill during its passage. Of course, reference has been made to the very impressive turnout as coffins pass through Royal Wootton Bassett, and yesterday’s roll call of deaths brings home to us the current losses. In my judgment, it would be interesting to see whether there is any carry-across or manifestation of increased support for our Armed Forces in poppy sales and in attendance at remembrance parades, as well as continuing support for service charities.

There are around 100,000 war memorials in this country, of which perhaps 1,200 or so are listed. The spate of thefts has been referred to today and previously by my noble friend and colleague Lord Tope. Could the Minister tell us whether there are any laws at the present time that govern damage or desecration to our war memorials? If not, should we not consider their introduction?

In today’s paper, there is an indication that the funding for our very impressive National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire is going to be cut by a quarter. I visited it a couple of years ago, and it is hugely impressive. I realise, of course, that economies have to be made in defence spending, but do we really have to reduce the funding for such an impressive national memorial?

Turning to the matter of the young, does the Minister know whether the British Legion visits schools on a regular basis? Are poppies made available in schools? Should this not be rather more encouraged? I have previously suggested that schools should adopt their local war memorials for the dual advantage of both cleanliness and preservation. It would also make our youngsters more aware of the sacrifices that have been made.

Sadly, some who have given their lives have not been properly acknowledged and treated. It is surely a scandal that it has taken until next year, 2012—some 70 years after the ending of the Second World War—to erect a memorial to the 55,573 brave members of Bomber Command who were killed in action.

I also pay tribute to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for all the work that it does, which I have seen throughout the world, and to the memorials of many communities overseas. On my visit to Normandy earlier this year to visit the landing beaches, I saw the way so many memorials in small French communities are maintained, with full acknowledgement of the particular regiments that liberated those communities.

Sadly, there is no sign of the world becoming any less violent and there will inevitably be casualties in the future. For our forces, we must provide the best possible medical care, make generous provision for dependants—I know that my noble friend Lord Loomba will refer to war widows in particular in his speech—and always ensure that those who make the supreme sacrifice on our behalf have a decent funeral and an appropriate memorial.

My Lords, my younger son is 10 years old and I remember that when I turned 10, my father, the late Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, went to war, fulfilling any young officer’s dream: to command his battalion—the Second Fifth Ghurkha Rifles Frontier Force—in battle. He took part in the Indian Army’s liberation of Bangladesh. I remember reading in the papers every day a list of casualties and the sacrifices made, and dreading seeing my father’s name. Watching my mother enduring the anxiety was awful. My father’s battalion sadly lost several of its members in action. As we speak today, the Second Fifth Ghurkhas are celebrating their 125th anniversary on their Raising Day, and the whole regimental family is together in India.

When I say regimental family, that is what the army family is; it is the serving troops and their families, but also the ex-servicemen and their families and the widows like my mother and their descendents. At every one of these reunions, we always remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. My father’s battalion won three Victoria Crosses during the Second World War: one was posthumous, awarded to Subedar Netra Bahadur, and the other two were awarded to Havalder Gaje Ghale and Naik Agan Singh Rai. I was privileged to have been brought up from childhood with Agan Singh Rai and Gaje Ghale, and in fact Agan Singh Rai was my father’s subedar major—his regimental sergeant-major—when my father commanded his battalion.

I congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, for this debate and his inspirational speech. We as a nation are tremendous in the way we remember the sacrifices made by our service men and women over the years. As a public, we show this support and remembrance year after year through Remembrance Sunday and a multitude of services that go on in every corner of the country, the Royal British Legion’s poppy appeal and the millions of poppies worn. Thank God that FIFA was finally made to see sense after its nonsensical banning of the wearing of poppies, which it saw as a political statement. It never has been and it never will be. This is about remembrance, appreciation and gratitude, and particularly about making sure that future generations never forget and are inspired by the noble sacrifices made.

Yesterday, my six year-old daughter took part in a Remembrance Day service at her school, which included a minute’s silence. She brought home the poppy that she had made and showed it to me with pride. We have the wonderful memorial gates commemorating the service of 5 million volunteers who served in the First and Second World Wars from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. I was proud to be the chairman of the commemoration committee for six years, and these gates exist thanks to the drive and commitment of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who no doubt will speak about this inspirational living memorial.

The public spirit and support for the Armed Forces are probably at an all-time high in modern times, with Royal Wootton Bassett, the hugely successful newly-founded charity Help for Heroes initiative, the work of the Army Benevolent Fund—the soldiers’ charity—and the amazing warmth and respect shown to the Chelsea Pensioners of the Royal Hospital of Chelsea, where I am proud to be a commissioner.

We never needed to be told about a big society. The British public have been practising this instinctively for years. I was really happy to read the report of the task force of the military covenant a year ago, which made so many excellent suggestions.

This debate is also about the Armed Forces covenant, which states:

“An Enduring Covenant Between The People of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government—and—All those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown And their Families”.

We are told that the Armed Forces community includes regular personnel, reservists, veterans, the immediate families of those categories of individuals, and the immediate families of service personnel and veterans who have died. The level of support has been categorised into four areas.

The first is to give recognition and gratitude, which I think we do. I am grateful to the Government for establishing a Chief of the Defence Staff commendation scheme. The second level is to take positive measures to support disadvantage. This is because our service men and women have such an unsettled way of life, and it worries me that initiatives such as the boarding school scheme for officers’ children are under threat. Could the Minister confirm this? It is disappointing to see that the formal ID card for veterans and service families has been rejected, with “value for money” being the reason why the scheme is not being supported. Could the Minister confirm this? The Armed Forces’ housing—particularly the Army’s—is on the whole below standard. Is there any way the Minister could confirm whether these long-term housing contracts are going to be renewed before 2021? Could the rent that has been set at below-market rates be looked at?

The third level of support is the financial package. Here, there is no question about it: the Armed Forces get paid a pittance compared with what we expect them to do. The Army doctrine publication tells us:

“All British soldiers share the legal right and duty to fight and, if necessary, kill, according to their orders, and an unlimited liability to give their lives in doing so. This is the unique nature of soldiering”.

Do we genuinely, hand on heart, feel that we are correctly compensating them when the salary for a private is only £17,265 at the low end, and the new entrant rate is £13,895?

The fourth level is special treatment. We keep hearing about the Armed Forces covenant meaning that the Armed Forces community should get fair treatment. I think the term “fair” is inappropriate; they need to get special treatment always. This is where we fall short of countries such as the United States in the way they look after their veterans and their special hospitals. In India, all retired soldiers and their families are entitled to free medical care from armed forces hospitals for life. This is special treatment, which is so well-deserved.

The Armed Forces are all about esprit de corps and morale. Where morale is concerned, we have had issues. There has to be mutual trust and respect between the Armed Forces, the Government and the Ministry of Defence. I am sorry to say that this mutual trust, particularly between the MoD and the Armed Forces, is breaking down. I have spoken about huge issues of morale across the services. The Government rushed through the SDSR last year with resulting cuts. On the one hand, our forces are stretched, just having completed Iraq; the Afghanistan operations are now 10 years on; and we have to deal with situations such as Libya at the drop of a hat. Our noble service personnel feel that they are out there in these conditions knowing that their jobs are not secure and seeing their comrades being made redundant. They know that the public are on their side but feel let down in many ways by the MoD and the Government. What is more, we are made to look a laughing stock in our short-sightedness. Almost a year ago, in our debate on the SDSR, I said in my speech:

“nobody predicted 9/11 and nobody predicted the Falklands War; they both happened. Sadly, no one knows what is going to happen next. We have to be prepared for the unexpected”.—[Official Report, 12/11/10; col. 404.]

What happened just a couple of months later? The Arab spring and then Libya. We as a country had decided by then to do away with our aircraft carriers, our Harriers and our Nimrods, and we could have done with all of them in the Libyan operations.

The SDSR was all about means and not ends. We in Britain are a major player on the world stage with our hard power and our soft power, and we will be required to intervene again. Once again, it could be “known unknowns” such as in the Iran situation, or it could be “unknown unknowns”, in the way the Arab spring happened overnight. With the eurozone crisis, Chancellor Merkel has already said that if the euro falls, there will be war in Europe.

We may have stayed out of the euro—and thank God we did—but we are a key integral player on the world stage and we will not be able to stay out of any forthcoming conflict. We have an Army now of fewer than 100,000. This is so short-sighted. We strive for peace, but, unfortunately, as the noble Lord, Lord Lee, said, conflict is inevitable whether we like it or not. The defence of our realm is the Government’s No. 1 priority, and that rests entirely on the amazing sacrifices made by our Armed Forces. Last month, I chaired an event as president of the UK India Business Council on east and north-east India. It was attended by a senior Minister from Nagaland, where of course the famous Kohima epitaph reads:

“When You Go Home

Tell Them Of Us And Say

‘For Your Tomorrow,

We Gave Our Today’”.

We as a nation will never forget. We will always be inspired and we will always be grateful.

My Lords, I would very much like to affirm from these Benches our support for what is expressed in the Motion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk. I, too, congratulate him on the way in which he introduced the debate. From these Benches, we are particularly conscious of all that is implied about the debt that we owe to the fallen, because the Church of England and the other churches and faith groups of this country are hugely involved in the services and acts of remembrance that will take place over the next few days.

I started in ministry in the Church of England 35 years ago. As an assistant curate in a parish in the north-east of England, I very well remember my first Remembrance Sunday service. It was an important occasion, but not one that was attended by exceptional numbers. In the second year, I remember, exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, experienced, someone remarking that probably by the turn of the century we would not be holding such acts of remembrance. Clearly, it was not a person with the gift of prophecy.

Over these past 35 years, I have watched these acts of remembrance grow hugely. There was a significant time when the various important anniversaries of the Second World War—the 50 years after the beginning and end—were marked that you suddenly began to notice the change. However, the involvement of this country in recent conflicts has meant that those who assemble are now from across the age range. Acts of remembrance frequently take place at public war memorials, but they nearly always involve members of the clergy of all denominations leading acts of remembrance. As well as that, there are war memorials in churches throughout the land, and other services of remembrance will take place within those churches.

This keeping alive of an understanding of the debt we owe to people who have given their lives is something that the churches have been very diligent about. In recent times I have noticed that people are attempting to find ways to make sure that this is not just an exercise in history but to help people to understand more the nature of the human cost. I have seen a number of churches within my diocese where people have carefully researched the names on the war memorials from the First World War and the Second World War, have traced the stories of families and the people involved, and compiled booklets with details of them. Often, these are even accompanied by photographs. Of course, this sort of thing can usually be done only in small rural communities where memories are long and families are frequently still in the area and where there are not huge numbers of names on the war memorial, but it is interesting that these activities have come about in recent years.

As other noble Lords have already remarked, we are within three years of the centenary of the start of the First World War. I, too, was appalled by the acts of vandalism to war memorials involving the theft of metal plaques, but it is also the case that some of these memorials are not now in the best of condition, as time has inevitably caused deterioration. Is the Minister aware of any plans to survey the condition of those memorials during the next couple of years, so that they can be in as good a condition as possible for that significant centenary?

Part of acknowledging the debt to those who have given their lives is by continuing our responsibility for those who have survived the wars of recent years and who need support and for those who have given service in our Armed Forces. To that end, I, too, welcome the attention that this House gave to the military covenant in the Armed Forces Bill. It is vital to find ways whereby the military covenant has real meaning within the country and is more widely understood, without turning it into legal contract.

However, there is still some way to go to instil confidence within serving personnel that there really is going to be some form of change. I am privileged from time to time to be invited to visit various military units within my diocese, and there are quite a number. I did one such visit just last month. It included meeting a unit which is about to return to Afghanistan for another tour of duty early next year. It is a large establishment and it gave me the chance to meet people who had varying lengths of service. While I constantly found that the sense of pride in their unit and their professionalism were highly evident, it was noticeable that, when discussing what the military covenant might mean, there was some scepticism. Usually, this came about because personnel who have served in Afghanistan and met our American allies are well aware of very different arrangements within the United States for the care and support of veterans.

That having been said, they certainly welcomed the fact that efforts were being made to make sure that the military covenant was becoming more prominent. However, I guess that the quality of the first report on the covenant will have a great bearing on how the members of our Armed Forces react to it and the effect that it will have on their morale. I hope that it will demonstrate that all these matters are being taken extremely seriously.

It was very noticeable last week, and, indeed, this week, how many members of the current Armed Forces are on the streets selling poppies. I think that that is a demonstration of the current members of our Armed Forces understanding very well the debt that is owed to the past and their presence helped enormously in encouraging people in their support. My experience is that this support for members of our Armed Forces is strong whatever the public feeling might be about the particular campaigns that were or are being waged. This Sunday, I expect to be in Bury St Edmunds for the main act of remembrance followed by a service. Not only will our own Armed Forces be present but those of America, because there are two United States Air Force bases within Suffolk. Part of the value of these acts of remembrance is that the reality of what we are remembering is very much before us with current young members of the services present. It helps to make the cost of conflict not seem remote and consequently an understanding of the extent of our debt becomes that much greater.

I believe that an acknowledgement of our debt is widely supported in our nation. I welcome this debate, showing the support of this House for acknowledgement of that debt.

My Lords, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to follow the right reverend Prelate. It is extremely appropriate that he has taken part in this debate, because the church has such a part to play in the services of remembrance that we shall recognise on Sunday and on the other occasions associated with Remembrance Day. I join him in congratulating my noble friend Lord Selkirk on what I thought was an outstanding introduction to this debate. It set absolutely the tone that was needed.

I think that everybody in this House shares those experiences. I became a Member of Parliament in 1970. One stood on Remembrance Day at the war memorial in King Square in Bridgwater. Year after year, exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said, one sensed a diminution of interest. A few survivors from the First World War were still there. I remember meeting Mr Harry Patch, who was the last survivor of the lot. Gradually, they faded away. Then the survivors of World War Two started to look pretty old as well. My noble friend Lady Trumpington is one of the survivors in this House of those who gave great service to their nation in the Second World War.

As we stood there, these memories moved on. And then, gradually, events came in. There was a feeling that this was an old ceremony to do with those wars. Korea had not made much impact, but then we had the Falklands and Northern Ireland. Then the message came round: “Shouldn’t some names be added to these memorials?” One particular moment stands out for me. I remember standing in King Square in Bridgwater and then going into St Mary’s church. Then, as I came out of St Mary’s at the end of the service, one of my policemen gave me a message, telling me that my private secretary wanted to speak to me from Northern Ireland, to tell me that there had been a bomb at the Remembrance Day service at Enniskillen, and that a number of people had been killed or seriously injured. The shock of the desecration of that occasion went round the world. It was in fact enormously damaging to the reputation of the IRA and any latent sympathy it may have had, as well as to any Irish freedom movement there may have been in the United States, among other places.

This was coupled, as some may remember, with the extraordinary generosity of spirit of Mr Gordon Wilson, whose daughter was killed on that occasion. I remember standing in the shower in Admiralty House early the next morning, listening to him on the “Today” programme, before I had to make a Statement in the House. I remember the extraordinary way in which he was able, with that generosity of spirit, to speak as he did after losing his daughter in that tragic event.

I shall also never forget, and many noble Lords may remember, the extraordinary service we had two weeks later. The British Legion at Enniskillen were determined that they would still have their service, and British Legion standard bearers from all round the country were determined that they would attend that service as well. Rank upon rank of standard bearers gathered in the square in Enniskillen. I managed to persuade—she did not need much persuasion because she understood entirely—the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, to come with me to that service. The solidarity, right across parties, and right across the divisions that might otherwise exist in Northern Ireland, had an enormous impact on me.

After that, we moved on to the first Gulf War, and then more recently the Afghanistan campaign and the second Gulf War in Iraq. What one noticed in those early Remembrance Day services and parades was that very few servicemen standing there had any medals. Now you look at them and see the impact of more recent years and their activities. I am going to take part and help to conduct a service on Sunday in our local parish church with a very good friend of mine, a retired brigadier who served in the Parachute Regiment—a man who is very well known to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. His son is serving in the Parachute Regiment, and is coming up for his third tour, I think, of Afghanistan. One realises the commitment and involvement that we now have.

What has really come across so clearly now is that, as it is said, war is the failure of politicians and rulers. Having had some responsibility in that area, I agree with that entirely. Take, for example, the Second World War: I am sure that Hitler did not actually think that England, in the end, would fight for Poland. President Galtieri thought he could grab the Falklands without any conflict and that Britain would think that it was too difficult to do anything about it. Mistakes by politicians, rulers and leaders lead us into those situations. Saddam Hussein was quite convinced, I think, that nobody would really mind about a silly place like Kuwait, which had caused a lot of trouble for some of its neighbours, and that nobody would rally to the cause of freedom, independence and freedom from aggression.

It is against that background that one has noticed how the mood has changed. In the early part of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, a lot of people had reservations about the wisdom of those events. That in some part rubbed off on our Armed Forces, which were not held in sufficient respect—it was felt that they were involved in something that we should perhaps not be doing. Then, however, whether because of Help for Heroes, or because of a recognition of the suffering and the casualties—the fatal casualties, but particularly the appalling physical injuries that many were suffering—the British nation rallied. Whatever the views were about the rightness of those particular campaigns, there was absolutely no question about the support of the nation for those who were loyally undertaking their duty in the Armed Forces of the Crown.

It is against that background that I look at this occasion today and look at what our responsibilities are. I support the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. He raised the issue of housing. It is our duty now to remember those who have made the sacrifice. It is also our duty to remember their families and the suffering that they have and to see that the many organisations and charitable organisations, such as the British Legion, SSAFA and others that seek to help in this area, are supported. We also have a duty to those who have come back with quite appalling injuries. The wonders of modern medicine have now made possible their survival, but they are left with major challenges. This may all be lumped together in the military covenant. We have responsibilities to those who survive, to those who are injured and to their families at this time.

We need our Armed Forces. We face major challenges at the present time. If wars are the failures of politicians, the sad truth is that they will make mistakes again. It is against that background that we need to ensure, as a duty to those who have served and have made the ultimately sacrifice, that their survivors and their successors are properly equipped and properly maintained to continue the sacred task of defending our nation’s interests.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, for securing this debate and introducing it in a most moving and inspirational manner. We are debating,

“the debt which our nation owes to all those who have sacrificed their lives in defence of the realm”.

This subject raises two questions. First, does the nation really owe a debt to those who have sacrificed their lives in defence of the realm? Secondly, how should that debt be repaid? I shall take these two questions in turn.

The first question looks simple, and its answer appears self-evident: of course we do. This is the assumption made in almost all the speeches that have been made so far. This is also the assumption which underlies the report of the task force on the military covenant, and the review by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.

Imagine how somebody might argue against this. In the standard neoliberal fashion, it might be argued that, unless the Armed Force are conscripted—in which case, of course, a different moral logic applies—they are volunteers. They know what they are doing when they join the Armed Forces. They accept a job for which they are paid. It is a contract of employment that is voluntarily entered into, and is no different from any other. If people therefore lose their lives or limbs it is part of their contract, and the nation owes no debt. This is a standard neoliberal argument made in the 18th and 19th centuries, and is also to be found in many current writings by neoliberals.

It might also be argued that sacrifice of lives and limbs is not unique to the Armed Forces. The police, miners and firemen all risk their lives: why should we single out the Armed Forces? When we do, are we treating them in some privileged manner which is founded on emotions or romantic glorification of war rather than on solid rational grounds? I suggest that there are solid rational grounds for privileging the Armed Forces, and these are fourfold.

First, they are the only group who explicitly commit themselves to the sacrifice of their lives. Unlike firemen and miners, or even the police, they are not employed to do other things which incidentally might involve loss of lives; rather, willingness to risk the loss of life is the very raison d’être of the job.

Secondly, the Armed Forces incur loss or temporary surrender of basic democratic and civil freedoms that no other occupation shares. Members of the Armed Forces may not join a trade union, they may not openly dissent from or criticise the Government and they may not question operational decisions made by their superiors. The standard democratic freedom that every other employee enjoys is denied to members of the Armed Forces.

Thirdly, the Armed Forces act on behalf of the nation in a way that no other occupation does. They swear their loyalty to the nation, place their well-being in the nation’s charge and render the most essential service of preserving the integrity of the country.

Finally, the fourth reason why there is good moral logic in privileging the Armed Forces over other occupations is that very high—indeed higher—professional ethics is required of them. Greater mutual loyalty is required of them; greater courage and bravery as well as a greater willingness to risk their lives for the sake of their comrades. They are also expected to show greater commitment to the collective ethos and to subordinate their personal security to the security of the country at large.

My answer to the first question is that yes, of course, there is every reason to argue that the nation owes a debt to the Armed Forces. That raises the next question: what form should the repayment of that debt take? Since the Armed Forces have offered to risk and lay down their lives on behalf of and in the interests of the country, the country obviously incurs several obligations. I want to mention three, only one of which has been heavily emphasised in the debate so far.

First, the nation has an obligation to remember them with gratitude, and honour their memory in appropriate ways. No financial compensation can adequately measure up to the way of remembering and cherishing people and fulfilling the dreams that their sadly truncated lives have not been able to realise. We remember, honour and cherish their memories by constructing memorials, national Remembrance Day and telling stories about their deeds in our text-books. In telling those stories and constructing memorials, we not only redeem the tragic dimension of their death but build bonds of unity among our own people. It is worth remembering that Remembrance Day is only common to five or six out of 185 countries. India has no remembrance day. France does not. Germany—for obvious reasons—does not. Even in the United States, it appears in a very unusual form. It might be worth looking not only at the history of Remembrance Day—is it a response to the Crimean War or the First World War?—but at the changes it has undergone over the years and why it is, in some sense, relatively unique to our country.

The second obligation we have is to look after the dependants of those who have died and to attend to the needs of those who have suffered grave injuries and disabilities. This calls for generous compensation schemes, pensions, rehabilitation, integration into normal life and other forms of support. The task force on the military covenant and the Boyce report make excellent suggestions and I wholeheartedly endorse them.

However, there is a third obligation, which is in danger of being neglected. The nation incurs a profound obligation to ensure that the wars in which the Armed Forces are engaged and in which they may have to sacrifice their lives are fully justified, either in terms of the interests of the country or in the wider interests of humanity at large. Since the Armed Forces are expected to obey the civilian authorities and are politically neutral, the civil authorities that decide for them often have a tendency to take them for granted and to think that the military machine can be deployed for any purposes that their masters choose. Wars are therefore declared sometimes without much forethought, because they distract attention from domestic problems or because they are politically convenient and give the halo of glory to otherwise mediocre politicians. It is precisely because the Armed Forces are expected to be uncritically loyal that the Government must think 10 times before sending them to an almost certain death. Iraq and Afghanistan do not meet this test, as I have argued before your Lordships in the past; nor, I think, did Suez or Vietnam. It becomes morally hypocritical to send young people with promising lives to ill conceived deaths and to compensate them with offers of payments, as if a promising life is worth a lump sum of so much money.

Every death is a tragedy. It should be an occasion for critical national self-reflection on how to improve the way in which we take momentous decisions involving war. The Armed Forces trust the nation to value their lives and to demand sacrifices only when they are fully justified. The nation must prove itself worthy of the trust that the Armed Forces put in it.

My Lords, I, too, thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, on giving us this opportunity to reflect on the eve of our remembrance commemorations. It is gratifying, too, to behold the degree of regard in which our society holds our Armed Forces across the country and which so powerfully helps to sustain our men and women when they are serving overseas. However, that regard—as the noble Lord, Lord King, has already said—cannot be taken for granted. In the 1990s, we saw that our people were less willing to make sacrifices on behalf of our Armed Forces. The funds raised for our people after the war in the Falkland Islands amounted to more than £25 million; the funds raised for the last Iraq war were less than 2 per cent of that. The involvement in Iraq, clearly, was the reason for that unpopularity, but it seemed at that stage that the British affinity between the people of the nation and our Armed Forces was at a low-ish point.

That gave rise to clarion calls from all sorts of people —not least the Chiefs of Staff—raising the profile of the issue. They raised the issues, as we have heard, about equipment, medical treatment, accommodation, medals, education, pay and allowances, and homecoming parades. That was not only to bring pressure to bear on the Government but to bring to the notice of our society as a whole that they needed to help make this new covenant manifest.

Your Lordships will know that our society has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. We have been able to live in peace and go about our daily business without much concern for our own safety or that of our families, even though of course there have been some pretty appalling terrorist incidents. As a society, we have very little understanding of the horrors of war. At the same time, we are increasingly affluent, middle class and liberal, with high expectations of rewards and gains. We exhibit increasing educational standards but a lower level of physical fitness. We seek greater variety and choice and have an interest in leisure risk but not real risk. We have changing organisational structures, increasing public accountability and transparency, and fluctuating economies. We are a litigious society and seek compensation at every turn. We demand flexibility in a high-tech world and often give minority groups more face time than the silent majority. The trouble is that our enemies—the terrorists, the dictators and the ethnic cleansers—are not suffering from mid-life crises and taking court action. They are out there, and if anything, they are consistent.

Those 16,000 names on the national memorial at Alrewas, listing those who have died in service since the end of the Second World War, bear witness of the extent to which we as a nation have used our Armed Forces in that time. It is not just those who make the sacrifice, as we have already heard. All who serve on operations put their lives at risk, whether they die or whether they are injured. Countless numbers have been wounded, while many others have been psychologically damaged, which comes out only later in their lives. Behind every one of those names on the war memorial there are wives, husbands, partners, parents, children and colleagues who loved them and who live with the pain and consequences of their loss every day.

How are we doing as a society, looking after this thing called a covenant? Are we playing our several parts? The charities, in my view, are doing well, although their window of opportunity may close as we pull out of Afghanistan and come off the headlines. The services-related charities have managed to hold up well in terms of donations from the public, and I pay tribute to Help for Heroes for the way in which it helped raise the profile of the services’ needs to their current level.

Our people are doing well, too, from small groups of determined men and women undertaking amazing physical feats to the generosity of individual donations on the one hand, through the warmness of the welcomes received at homecoming parades to the compassion and respect demonstrated at events such as those held at Royal Wootton Bassett on the other. I feel genuinely that the majority of our citizens recognise the price that has been paid, and continues to be paid, by our soldiers to enable them to enjoy the freedoms that they have.

One area in which I do not think we are doing as well is in the Government's implementation of the covenant, although I recognise that much work has gone into it. We must remember that this is a contract under which, in return for the sacrifice made by those in the forces, the Government will ensure they are equipped properly, trained, given the best possible care if they become casualties, and are treated fairly.

Although I believe there are several areas in which we are failing to meet this fundamental requirement for fairness, I will mention only three. Before I identify them, I should remind your Lordships of what our service men and women do for all of us. I spent some time last week talking to one of the brigade commanders, who was, in the distant past, my military assistant. I asked him how he was finding it there. He replied, “I follow the policy of reverse vertigo”. I said, “What is that?”. He said, “I dare not look up. If I look down, it is fine; when I look up, it is not”. Although I talked about a changing society earlier, perhaps the one constant that we would all recognise is the soldier himself. He is a remarkable individual who never ceases to amaze all of us with his achievements. Henry Kissinger once said that the Brits are the only people left on earth who love to fight. Well, we have certainly kept our eye in, and we should be thankful for it.

These are young men and women called upon to put the needs of the nation before their own and who, as we have already heard, forgo some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces. We ask them to operate along the roughest edges of humanity while observing the civilised norms of the society from which they are drawn. That is not an easy task. They face an unprecedented degree of public scrutiny and analysis. Of course, they still live in a hard, frightening and dangerous world. The miracles of modern transport do not absolve them from moving great distances on their feet carrying heavy loads. Snazzy new kit does not stop the bullet from killing them or the bomb from maiming them. The state of their digestion is a matter of public interest. The days are still hot and the nights dark and cold. While there may come a time when technology transforms the world, we are not there yet. So it is down to these young men and women, in their fragile human form, to defend our freedoms. We must not forget that they find themselves in these circumstances because of the decisions taken by our political masters.

I will now speak about the three areas in which I believe we are failing them and which it would be perfectly possible to put right and affordable even in the current economic climate, given due priority. First, as I have said before, I do not believe that the third sector should be exploited to fund men and women who are still serving in the forces. That is the irrefutable responsibility of the Government. Charitable money is desperately needed to support those who have left the services. Every pound that the charities commit to those in service denies help to deserving veterans and their families elsewhere.

Secondly, as others have said far more eloquently than I, there is a compelling case for the retention of the chief coroner. We owe this much to all bereaved families, whether in the services or not. For those who have lost a soldier son, father, mother or daughter in some far-off and unimaginable war, the ramifications of not retaining such a post are extreme.

Thirdly, in no way is it morally defensible to make compulsorily redundant those who have so recently fought for their country. We are not talking about a situation of demobilisation after a major war, as the circumstances are entirely different; nor are we talking about large numbers. As it is likely that the majority of the redundancies from the Armed Forces following the SDSR will be voluntary, we are probably talking about a few thousand being made compulsorily redundant. It is difficult to imagine how these people will feel, having volunteered to fight for their country and having been sent to do so, often several times. Having survived life-threatening battles with their enemies, they return home, keen to remain in service, only to find that an ungrateful Government are kicking them out. This is not the way to show that the nation values such people.

I will finish by saying that the Prime Minister has said that the military covenant has been put at the heart of our national life. Because the principles of the covenant are now part of the law of our land, we have not only an opportunity at this time of remembrance to put these matters right but, I believe, a duty to do so.

My Lords, I believe that this House is hugely indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, for securing this debate and for the quite outstanding way in which he introduced it—emotional but also factual.

I declare an interest as vice-president of the War Widows’ Association, which held a service in Westminster Abbey this morning, supported yet again, as it has been year on year, by the Duke of Edinburgh attending and laying a memorial in the abbey. The members of the association are quite elderly, some of them very elderly, but they were joined today by widows who are very young and have young families. That is a result of the operations with which we in Britain have been faced.

Remembrance and debt are met in a number of ways. We meet them this weekend as a nation in the services that we hold. However, there are a number of other ways. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, year on year, is meeting the debt that we owe to those who have sacrificed their lives. Some years ago I was asked to carry out a review for the commission when it was having industrial relations problems. It affected me very strongly when we visited war graves in different parts of Europe—including France and Italy—and saw, row after row after row, the graves of soldiers who were 18, 19 or 20 years-old. A whole nation of young people had sacrificed their lives for us. We cannot forget that and we must continue to meet the debt that we owe to them and their families.

The military covenant, on which I congratulate the Government, is another way of meeting our debt to those who have sacrificed their lives, those whom they left behind and those who will come after them as well. If the Armed Forces are anything, they are a family; a family of young men and women working, serving their nation together and acting as a family looking after each other in the bad times as well as the good times.

Another way that various Governments have sought to meet the debt that we owe is through the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body. The debate that we are having today is, in many ways, very sombre and respectful, but it is also looking backwards. I think we have to look forwards because you cannot wheel out debt and remembrance once a year every November and come back to it the following November. It is as ongoing as the service that our young men and women give to this nation when they sign up, knowing that they may have to pay the ultimate price—indeed, so many of them have paid it and continue to do so. There has only been one year since the end of the Second World War when our service people have not been somewhere in the world on operations in the name of this country. The role that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body carries out is part of the commitment that we give to our young service men and women. It is independent, and it carries out its work, I would suggest, in a very fair way. I was honoured and privileged to be the chairman of the review body.

The problem that we have with the Armed Forces is that decisions that we reach today impact on their lives year on year, not only when they are in the service but when they are out of it and when they retire. I am looking at the overall terms and conditions under which we recognise part of their contribution—it can only be part of it. I was appointed chairman of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body in 1997. I came to it following two or three successive years when their annual pay award had been staged. Noble Lords might think that is rather mercenary in this debate. It is not, because the cutback in the pay that they had under the then Tory Government meant that at the end of their service their pension was going to be affected every single year until they died. That has a major impact on the pensions of Armed Forces personnel. If they are lucky, they leave the service in their 50s and that is the point at which their pension is based. They come out at a time when it is quite often difficult for them to get another job. Even if the economy is buoyant, they are at an age where, in this so-called ageless society, age is a factor. The pension impact is very important.

Last year, I was not only shocked but appalled to learn of two contradictory statements from the Government about the measures that we are taking as a nation, although I accept that we have to take some others. Initially, the Armed Forces were not going to be involved in the public sector pensions review. Subsequently, we were told that they would be. That decision, particularly if there is a move from RPI to CPI for pensions, will have a significant impact on armed services personnel. It does not meet the covenant that we have reached with our personnel.

Not only that, but this year any member of the Armed Forces earning more than £21,000 per annum received no pay award, which means that we have young lads and women in Afghanistan risking their lives being told that they will not get a pay award. It does not impact on them individually but on their families. Most of those personnel will have young families on whom the impact is substantial. Accommodation has been mentioned. It has been, and still is, an ongoing sore not only in this Government but in the previous Labour Government.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, that we each have eight minutes in which to speak. Pensions and pay are two important factors, which impact on our service men and women. In the past year, we have seen a breach of what is referred to as “family harmony” in the Army, but not in the other two services, of just over 10 per cent. That cannot be helpful.

In conclusion, I shall quote paragraph 120 of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body 2011 report. It states:

“We are seriously concerned about the cumulative impact of the overall changes in prospect. Inflation is higher than was expected when the pay freeze was announced, allowances have been cut, and the change in pensions indexation reduces the value of the pension more than other public sector groups. Taken together, these changes pose considerable risks to morale and potentially to recruitment and retention”.

In replying, will the Minister give a commitment to urge the Government to lift the pay freeze and to make sure that we honour the commitment we give to our Armed Forces personnel in regard to their pensions?

My Lords, I wear my poppy with pride, as do many in your Lordships’ House. This weekend, the entire country will observe Remembrance Day and there will be silence for those who gave their lives in the two world wars. Therefore, today’s debate on the eve of Remembrance Day is very important. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, on securing this debate.

It is imperative not only to remember those who sacrificed their own lives to allow us to live in a world of democracy but to teach current and forthcoming generations about this tribulation. Generations have grown up in a country and they do not know its past. They remain unaware that the basic human rights that they expect today are as a result of those who have lost their lives fighting for our rights. History must never be forgotten in case it repeats itself. It should be enshrined for all of us, and we should always remember, that the fruits we enjoy today are products of the selflessness of the millions who gave their lives.

Key issues such as human rights, justice, education and poverty are all deeply connected to our democratic values. However, we must always take the time to remember that the democracy on which our judicial system is reliant today came at the cost of people in other countries. Let us not forget that people from India, the West Indies and Africa, and Gurkhas from Nepal, fought with us and for us in both world wars. At that time there was no Commonwealth; there were only colonies. Soldiers came from all corners of the world. From India alone, more than 1 million soldiers lost their lives.

Unfortunately, war and conflict are not only deeply rooted in the world’s history but are ongoing in our present. The Rwanda and Burundi war literally wiped out hundreds of thousands of people. The international armed conflict in Bosnia took the lives of more than 2 million people, thus making it the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. The Democratic Congo Republic, as with events in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, paid a heavy price in efforts to remove dictatorships.

The war in Afghanistan has created more than 2 million widows in a country with a population of only 30 million. After 30 years of civil war, Afghanistan has one of the highest percentages of widows in the world. A very high percentage of these widows are young, illiterate and have children to support. Providing for their children is a daily struggle, and they are forced into begging and prostitution. With the death of their husband diminishing their economic security, they are placed at the lowest level of society and their human rights are eroded.

The children of widows are invariably forced into the workplace at an early age to help support their mothers. These working children are denied their right to an education. Many are forced to beg like their mothers or to work in factories where child labour abuse is common practice. In some cases, girls are forced into marriage at a young age so that they are no longer a burden on their mothers.

War has an ugly face. Ultimately, people pay a heavy price which cannot be measured in terms of consequences such as poverty, hunger, famine and disease. There are no victors in any war.

I declare my interest as a founder chairman trustee of my charity, the Loomba Foundation, which has been working for more than a decade to raise awareness of the plight of widows around the world who have lost their husbands through conflict. There are more than 245 million widows and 500 million children—one section of the world’s population—who suffer in silence due to their loss. More than 100 million widows live in poverty and struggle to survive, and are often soft targets for murder, rape, prostitution, forced marriage, property theft, eviction and social isolation, as well as physical and emotional abuse. Their children do a lot worse. Statistics show that about 1.5 million children of widows worldwide do not live past their fifth birthday.

The Loomba Foundation is proud that last year the United Nations declared 23 June as International Widows Day, which was initially established by the foundation in 2005. I should like to ask the Minister if the British Government would support International Widows Day and pay our debts to war widows.

It is clear that wars are very destructive. We owe it to those who lost their lives fighting for our rights that their memories are not lost, and we should work towards a future that is not riddled with war and conflict but is a united world. Remembrance Day is an event that should have a perpetual place in our history because there is nothing more worthy than giving one’s life to preserve the values that we hold.

My Lords, my noble friend has spoken very eloquently of the plight of widows worldwide. My own focus, I confess, has been much narrower, as president of the War Widows’ Association of Great Britain, a post I am very proud and privileged to occupy.

This morning, I went to the opening of the Field of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey. That brought home the poignancy of loss. All those plots organised by different organisations, with little crosses stuck in—each representing one lost life. I planted two crosses on behalf of two of my organisation’s members, too frail now in their 80s to come and do this themselves. It was a humbling experience.

During my time as president, I have heard innumerable stories of the difficulties that have faced the widows, who are very often extremely young with young children. They suffer all the emotional havoc that comes from losing a husband or a partner and all the difficulties of bringing up children on one’s own, probably with very little money. That was certainly the experience of many of the women in the Second World War to whom I have spoken.

We have to look long term. I agree that we cannot simply have a November remembrance service and then forget it the rest of the time. It is like those who go to church on Sunday then behave abominably for the next six days. We need to get away from that syndrome completely.

I served on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for 10 years. Like others have mentioned, the sight of all those rows of graves is very intimidating, although they are beautifully kept. One of the great joys of serving on the Commission was seeing how it kept the standards going under all kinds of difficulties, such as modern wars, the encroachment of cities into the former countryside, earthquakes, floods—you name it, all kinds of things which would interfere with the good upkeep of this as a remembrance. The Commission does a wonderful job and it was a wonderful post which I greatly enjoyed occupying.

I thoroughly applaud one of the things it did during my time there. It started to put up plaques showing the historical context in which one was viewing the graves. That was important, as it explains to succeeding generations, for whom this is history, what the graves are doing there. To have some context, I think, is extremely important and fits in with all the other ways in which we can teach young people in succeeding generations about what occurred and how important it is to remember. So I applaud all those who try to make it alive and real for youngsters. I hope very much that the various bodies who are involved in charitable work in any way whatever try to take the message into schools, where people will perhaps understand more readily what is involved in war.

There are also those who are not of the armed services as such, but whom I think we ought to remember. I think of the merchant seamen who often risked their lives in the most appalling conditions to help save this country from starvation and to bring us munitions. Think of the nurses who were operating in terrible conditions with awful wounds to see to, and who themselves were under pressure. This very morning I was standing next to a lady representing nurses and midwives. It suddenly came home to me very much that we owe a great debt to all those who are not from the armed services as such, but whose work is absolutely invaluable in dealing with the whole war effort.

We of course have an immense responsibility, as others have indicated already, towards those who survive war but with great difficulty. I think particularly of those whose minds are shattered by war as well as their limbs. I believe that organisations such as Combat Stress do a great deal of work. We are also much more aware of the long-term difficulties that can be experienced. This is something that I hope the Government will take on board because the symptoms very often do not show themselves immediately. Therefore we need to look long term, as we do for physical injuries. Many people now survive who simply would not have done so but for very advanced medical techniques. I suspect this is a worry that we are going to have for 50 years and more. It is very easy to forget about once the main dangers are over so we need to have a long-term commitment, I think that this is extremely important.

For the last part of my contribution, I should like to consider a rather sore point, touched upon by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker—the issue of the chief coroner. My noble friend the Minister will recall that when we were in opposition, we worked together in order to ensure that such a post existed. There is a certain irony, shall we say, in the present position. I want to believe that we can manage without him and that the kind of work that we expected him to do can be done by other people. But I have a very real worry that if his duties are distributed among others, then it will be nobody’s job. We need a person in this role. If we cannot have a chief coroner, which I would still like, then we need at least a person of repute and sufficient seniority to carry weight. I think that is extremely important and I urge that upon my noble friend. He will recall that one of the reasons why I and those involved in the services wanted this measure, was that military inquests are of a different order from normal inquests. They require a degree of sophistication and an understanding of military facts and ethos. That was developed slowly and painfully for the families of those who had died, but then we had a few coroners with that expertise. I did not want to see that lost, and that was the view of many others involved. Therefore it was felt essential to have a chief coroner with direct responsibility for the training of all coroners, particularly those needing expertise in military inquests.

I continue to think that that is the case. I am hoping for a crumb or two of comfort from my noble friend on this issue. I live in hopes. I think I see a shaking of the head in front of me. Oh, it is a nodding. I will wait eagerly to see what my noble friend says at the conclusion of this debate. I also thank my noble friend Lord Selkirk for giving us this wonderful opportunity to pay tribute, on behalf of the nation, for the wonderful service rendered by our Armed Forces.

I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, as well. It is an opportunity for all of us to express our feelings about this occasion. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do that, we very rarely get a chance. My only sadness was that he did not mention the Indians—more than 4 million of them—who served with the British in two world wars. Since we are remembering people, and thinking of those people who were there with the British in two world wars, we might have thought of the Indians because they were crucial.

I should declare an interest. I am an Indian. I wanted to tell noble Lords about something that happened to me when I was a mayor in 1986. During my mayoral year, I was at the wreath-laying ceremony on Remembrance Day and afterwards somebody asked me, “Does Remembrance Sunday mean anything to you?”. I was very shocked by that. It was the first time that a seed was planted that made me think that people have to be informed of what the Indian role was in the two world wars.

Not only that—my father was a student here during the Great War, and Gandhiji said to the Indian students, “By all means help the war effort but don’t kill people”. So my father became a stretcher-bearer and spent the Great War in Mesopotamia. He never talked about it; my brothers, who were older, tried to ask him questions, but he never wanted to talk about it. I think he had such an appalling time that he did not want to recall it, as many prisoners of war did not. But in view of that, it was even more awful to be asked such a question.

Gandhiji also said, in the Second World War—and this has sometimes not been put across correctly—that we must help the British win the war, because then we will get our freedom. He said that if the British did not win the war, we would not know where we would be. So he actually encouraged Indians to volunteer in the Armed Services during the Second World War.

In the first year there were something like 1.5 million Indians. In fact, it was very interesting because India had a standing army of 150,000. When the British expeditionary force went to France it was outnumbered; it was when the Indian standing army started to come across and join the British that things started to change in France. So it is quite strange to know that India had a standing army of 150,000, and they were sent over as soon as possible to fight in France. Also, there were Indians in Palestine in the First World War.

In the Second World War, Indians were much more important. There were 2.6 million to 2.8 million Indians—there are no clear figures—who volunteered. There are very few veterans left now, but I have spoken to them and they said that when officers came to recruit to the villages, they said, “Join the armed services and you will get your freedom”. This was a great draw for them to join. Some people think that the Indians joined the armed services because of poverty. I am sure that was a factor, but I am pleased to say that it was not the only factor. Their contribution in the Second World War was absolutely crucial. North Africa was the first turning point of the war, and there were huge numbers of Indians there. In fact, we have a German friend whose uncle was posted to north Africa; the uncle told this little boy, “Don’t worry about me—I’m only going to fight the inferior races”. It is interesting to have this handed down from his uncle to him to us. This is how it was—we were considered the inferior races, but we did not do so badly after all. It was a great and important turning point.

The Burma campaign speaks for itself, as 1,250,000 were got together by Field Marshal Slim of whom two-thirds were Indians. I really hope that these things will not be forgotten totally, at least in your Lordships' House, because you care about these matters.

Because of all these things that people did not remember or know, as these memories get older and older, I really wanted to see a memorial to the Indians—but also to the Africans and West Indians. It should really pull at the heartstrings, the fact that West Indians—Jamaicans—were at the Somme. They came all the way to die at the Somme; not only that, but it took them six months to get permission to join the British Army and serve. These are things that we should know about, because the whole immigration after the war is rooted in the war. People forget to connect it. Who came here first? It was the people who had served in the Air Force and the Army.

There were two tyre factories in Southall and, as ever, the managers could not get any British workers. So they went back to the villages where their men had come from in the Punjab and recruited there specifically to work in those tyre factories. It is from that the migration to Southall started—and Southall, as noble Lords know, was full of Sikh people.

Sadly, I do not know whether most of your Lordships have seen the memorial. I hope they have. It is on Constitution Hill, not far from here. The names of the winners of the Victoria Cross and the George Cross are in the pavilion next to the memorial. I hope that people go and look at it and do not just pass through it, as they often do. The sad thing for me has been that we have never had a Prime Minister or a senior Cabinet Minister or anybody come to that memorial. The Queen inaugurated it but, even on that occasion, nobody from the then Government of any seniority came. It is quite interesting that when the Australian memorial was inaugurated, the Prime Minister went. One begins to wonder whether it is a question of kith and kin after all. We all remember the Anzacs and all the dominions, but do we remember the former colonies, which gave a great contribution? I am not sure that we remember them in the same way.

I also just mention that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, is the only person who has helped and supported us. She honoured us with a dinner, at which we raised quite a lot of money, and she has been twice to the memorial at the ceremony. But nobody else of any note has yet been there, and I invite all of you to visit.

My Lords, every year we cherish a number of bank holidays, whether Christmas, Easter, St George's Day or May Day. They all have different meanings for people and, for some, little meaning at all. They are viewed with varying degrees of importance. However, I believe that there is no one day more significant for us in Britain than Remembrance Day, an annual event for which we do not have a public holiday.

The emphasis on recognising the debt we owe to the fallen, like shifting sands, is moving from a focus on the world wars to more recent conflicts. The Wootton Bassett corteges are tangible evidence of the increased poignancy and recognition in the public consciousness of this.

I therefore thank my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas for securing this debate. It is timely to allow us to reflect this year on the mostly positive news to highlight how we recognise the debt owed to the fallen, but also on seeking to look after—better—those who have been left behind and those who continue to serve. It provides an opportunity today to corral and re-emphasise some key points that have arisen from related debates during this year.

By tradition, a Sunday in November provides a formal period of reflective ceremony for families and friends to remember those they knew so intimately who gave their lives for their country. More tangibly, for those directly affected, it is a time also perhaps for a grim but dignified reflection of their changed lives—on family life which might have been, with absent fathers never bringing up children and wives having to cope with overwhelming challenges. More indirectly, we pause and think of those we never knew, from all conflict zones going back several decades, represented by countless names written in bold black letters, hewn in stone on memorials in the UK and around the world.

In June 2011 the War Widows Association marked the 40th anniversary of its foundation, as has already been mentioned. A moving service held in London allowed those present to honour the fallen and their spouses, and reflect on their bereavements, which have happened not just in the heat of war zones but too often from tragic incidents such as friendly fire or accidents in service. It was also an opportunity, collectively, for the war widows, of whom there are over 30,000 in the UK, to quietly reflect on their successes, including the fight over many years for a pension 100 per cent free of tax.

A debate on the subject of the war widows that same day last June highlighted the need for further improvements to their care and welfare. This included the need for a change to data protection laws, still outstanding, to make it easier for the Ministry of Defence to transfer war widows’ personal information directly to the association. Current registered numbers are low, at just over 3,000 people. The debate further highlighted the need to protect fully a widow's pension. There remains a legacy issue affecting potentially over 4,000 people. If the death of a spouse fell between 1973 and 2005, after which the Armed Forces pension scheme came into force, and the widow subsequently remarries or co-habits, her pension is withdrawn.

Above all, 2011 has seen the contrast between the war in Afghanistan and civilian life at home highlighted in sharp relief. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has already mentioned, the Armed Forces covenant, presented this May and enshrined in the Bill, emphasised the need to have a closer bond between the services, communities and local authorities. It served to reaffirm the commitment between the state and the services concerning the defence of the realm, including the sobering point that those serving in the forces must be prepared to fight unquestioningly, and if necessary be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. As written in the Army doctrine document, this is founded on the highest principles of personal and collective commitment, and grounded in those key values of integrity, discipline, selflessness, outstanding training and unquestioning authority.

In return to those serving, to servicemen and their families, the state commits to deliver on a number of important social, welfare and health principles, with quality benchmarks to include equipment for fighting, family support, housing, education for children and recognition, to name just a few. In stark contrast with these principles, the riots that this country suffered from earlier this year demonstrated the moral and social bankruptcy seen in some parts of our society. People, mainly young, beyond the control of their parents or authority, were wantonly stealing goods from shops because they were tempting and available, all gained under a cloak of protest at government policy. To echo the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, I find it quite extraordinary that soldiers, some of whom may have come from the same cities and not dissimilar backgrounds to the rioters, have continued to serve in highly dangerous conditions against this background at home but remaining as professional, as focused and as brave as ever. It adds further weight to the debt owed not just to the fallen but to the seriously wounded and to those continuing to place themselves in danger. It is also a testament to the highest quality of selection, training and discipline within our UK Armed Forces. There is progress in tackling these legacy challenges at home—which were partly responsible for the riots—and I applaud the Government for taking strong action in working to effect societal change, including the increase of personal responsibility and the reduction of welfare dependency.

Education also has a role in helping us to understand the debt; my noble friend Lady Fookes has already spoken about this. The sacrifices made are more easily understood in society and in communities and passed down through the generations if history is given a greater priority in schools and is better taught, so that it is more interesting and meaningful. Improved teacher training is under way, placing a greater focus on the background to conflicts and on the linkage to related events. This will help pupils to establish a greater perspective to their place in the world and, we hope, will lead to the engendering of a greater purpose to and responsibility in their lives. As my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford has highlighted, schools should be encouraged to take an interest in adopting local war memorials, to teach pupils about the sacrifices within their communities.

It is hoped that a greater awareness of conflict and the reasons behind conflict, with tangible improvements in our moral standards, in encouraging greater self-help and in giving more help for our fellow human beings in society, will help begin to repay the debt which we will be remembering again in depth on Sunday.

My Lords, I also echo the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, for a beautiful speech and particularly for the beautiful words in relation to memory from Abraham Lincoln. That was beautifully chosen. This is only the third time I have spoken in the House; that is because I am extremely nervous, and because of my incredible sense of gratitude at being able to speak in a free institution in a free country. This is a marvel to behold. I was in a Select Committee this week on a Private Member’s Bill on pedlary. It was said that while the concept of the pedlar may go back to the 13th century, it is not really compliant with EU directives. I wondered what it would be like to subject the House to such a directive. It is wonderful that we have kept the particularity of our traditions and can speak freely on these matters.

We have just had 5 November and Guy Fawkes’s night. That is an example of statecraft, of an attack on the realm that was turned into great political memory. A link was established between the monarchy, Parliament and Protestantism that has lasted for hundreds of years. It seems to me that we have not grasped how to preserve our memory in this country—how to give flesh to the covenant. The covenant is not a contract. The noble Lord, Lord King, spoke of something sacred in the obligation that we owe. This is the third time I have spoken and the second time that I have spoken on the concept of remembrance. The last time I spoke was about Remembrance Sunday, suggesting, with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and my noble friend Lord Davies, that we need a day that we can establish a tradition within. The noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, told a beautiful story about tending the graves of the neglected dead; that could be a beautiful tradition to establish on Remembrance Sunday.

It is also the concept of the generations. I am from a Jewish background: I owe my life to your parents and grandparents. It is not just the people who fought; it is the people who lost family and loved ones, and the way that that has to be endured. They should also be remembered when we think of the defence of the realm. We should have one day a year and use our imaginations as the Tudors and Stuarts used theirs, to create some national memory. Could not schoolchildren visit grandparents? Could not some link be established, so that we can remember our obligations to previous generations and, as my noble friend Lady Dean said, look to the future? If we have no way of remembering the sacrifices, we will lose the memory. Just having a moment of reflection by the cheese counter in Sainsbury’s is not as good as we can do. That is why we should return to the idea of a genuine holiday on Remembrance Sunday, so that we can have a day where we can establish traditions like fireworks night—some way of remembering the sacrifices made in this country and the fact that, alone in the world for a while, we preserved democracy and liberty, against extraordinary odds.

I am something of a radical traditionalist, as some noble Lords may know. I say to the right reverend Prelate that it took a few days for the church to remember what St Paul’s Cathedral meant, but I am very glad that it did. It was completely by chance that the protesters in their tents stumbled upon the site of St Paul’s Cross, the oldest site of democracy in our country, upon which the Corporation of London and this House base our democratic inheritance. It is extraordinary that they discovered it, and now they celebrate it.

This country is a marvel, and it is full of miracles. We need to preserve our institutions and have days and commemorations when we can remember all that is best about our country and that in difficult times we cared for each other, looked out for each other and were prepared to make quiet sacrifices.

I support what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, said about the coroner. The matter of the coroner is of concern to grieving families, and just to put it into the accounting system would be too petty.

In remembering people’s sacrifice, we as a House need to be much more imaginative in thinking of a day when we can remember and the sorts of traditions that we want to see. Fireworks night is now a tradition but it was instituted by Members of this House in order to remember the institution of this House. I urge all of us to think of ways in which we could put aside a day and develop traditions whereby we can remember the enormous sacrifices made not merely by the dead but by their loved ones.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, for securing this debate and for his moving opening speech. I echo his words that it is a privilege to speak in a debate of this sort in this House.

My remarks will follow partly in the spirit of my noble friend Lady Flather. I make the point before I start that it is enormously important to acknowledge the varied nature of the sacrifice that has been made in the struggle to maintain freedom in this country, and that full acknowledgment of that is part of ensuring better relations between different groups in our society.

Ireland provides a striking example. I remind noble Lords that in the case of Ireland there was no conscription in either the First World War or Second World War, so all the sacrifice that was made by Irish people of different traditions was entirely voluntary. In the First World War, nearly 135,000 Irishmen volunteered, in addition to the 50,000 who were already serving with the regular Army and in the reserves in August 1914. Within a few weeks of the outbreak of war, no fewer than three Irish divisions—the 10th (Irish), the 16th (Irish) and the 36th (Ulster)—were formed from Irishmen, Catholic and Protestant, who responded to the call to arms. An estimated 35,000 Irish-born soldiers were killed before the armistice in November 1918. Over 4,000 of those died in the 16th Irish Division.

We have grown increasingly free in recent years of that version of the relationship between the two countries in which the only important military event was the Easter Rising, in which 450 people died. I am increasingly aware of the other important context of the sacrifice of Irishmen of both traditions in the First World War. I should add that, in the Second World War, 170,000 Irishmen again volunteered freely in the Allied cause. It is important, and no accident, that the increase in what is called the peace process, but more profoundly in the better relations between the two islands, has been characterised in recent years by an awareness, both in Ireland and in Britain, of the importance of those men and women who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. That process culminated in the important visit made by Her Majesty to Dublin earlier this year.

I shall say a few words about the Irish who died in the First World War. The first Member of Parliament to die was Arthur Bruce O’Neill, the Unionist MP for Mid-Antrim, who died within a few weeks of the war starting, on 6 November 1914. He had four children and his wife was expecting another. That other child was Terence O’Neill, who became Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and a Member of this House. I also happily report that another kinswoman of Arthur O’Neill, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill of Bengarve, is in her place. This House has intimate connections with the case of the very first Member of Parliament who died in arms in the First World War.

However, this is not a question of unionist sacrifice alone. Several Irish Party MPs joined up in the First World War. One of the most moving moments in that war was the speech made in June 1917 by Captain Willie Redmond, the brother of the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, who had cheated on his age to get in and serve but at the age of 55 spoke to Parliament about what was happening at the Front, in one of the most dramatic speeches in uniform ever given in the other place. He was killed at Messines in 1917. A number of other Irish nationalist MPs—most recently, I think, Stephen Gwynn, who is the subject of a biography published this week by Colin Reid—also served in that war.

These remarks about Ireland, on the importance of acknowledging the importance of mutual sacrifice and the positive role that that has played in recent years, do not apply only to Ireland. That is why the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, were so important. An important book by Shiraz Maher has just been published, Ties that Bind. It reminds us of the sacrifice of Muslims in the First and Second World Wars as they fought alongside the other Imperial and Commonwealth forces. About 65,000 Muslims were killed in Flanders and Mesopotamia alone in the First World War. Similar Muslim sacrifices were recorded in Burma, Italy and north Africa in the Second World War.

The noble Baroness has already referred to the beautiful set of Portland stone gates installed in 2002 on Constitution Hill that acknowledge that sacrifice alongside that of other Commonwealth soldiers. I support the noble Baroness’s words. It is a reasonable request on her part that senior members of the Government should consider attending that place and marking in some way the importance of that sacrifice. She has made a tremendously important point and I support it as strongly as I possibly can.

My Lords, at this time of national remembrance, I would like to use my time to talk about a national loss of memory, rather than of memory. It is a matter of great concern to me because it involves the greatest single loss of life by any of our fighting forces in any single engagement since, I think, the Battle of Hastings. This also involved: a massive failure on the part of the supporting authorities for the provision of equipment; a total failure of duty of care to the widows and families of the fallen; and the insult of today not even recognising it as a campaign in the official histories of the services. Yet—if one can stretch the point, and I have already apologised in advance to the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk—it was important to the defence of this realm, including our laws, reputation and principles of humanitarianism. I am talking about the suppression of the slave trade.

After Wilberforce’s moment of triumph in this House in 1806, there followed a 54-year campaign for suppression. The whole burden fell on the forces of the Navy and the rapidly-developing Marines, who had ceased to be sailing soldiers and at that time were beginning to be proper amphibian forces. Suppressing the slave trade required massive intervention on the waterways surrounding the coast of Africa. There was a terrible lack of accurate intelligence about where they should be and what they should do; and they had no shallow-draught boats with which to fight this battle.

Having won the Battle of Trafalgar, there were no enemies left for the Navy, so nobody was spending any money on it. They were certainly not going to build a fleet of shallow-draught boats to fight with. They were told to take what craft they could get from the southern ports of England, sail out and suppress the slave trade. In the course of doing so, they lost 23,000 people through fatality. For every one killed in battle, another three were lost to the diseases that beset the troops, who had no protection against them.

A total of 23,000 died in a fighting force engaged over 54 years. In doing so, they succeeded in suppressing the slave trade, but they got no help from anybody, least of all from many of the vested interests in Britain. They had to fight in dreadful conditions in shallow water and in villages where local tribes and their leaders wanted the slave trade to continue because they made a fortune. The slavers themselves would wait for the flotillas from England to arrive, then come in behind them and try to attack and kill our forces, because they wanted their vested interest in slavery to continue.

Only after six years did the Navy bother to send out a couple of frigates to try to cure that process, but in the first five years a total of 1,580 flotillas were sent out, of which not one returned intact. The total number of deaths in the first five years alone was just over 11,000. It was an appalling slaughter. Worse still, because it has never been categorised as a campaign, the Admiralty and Government would acknowledge no obligation whatever to the widows and families of the fallen, who became a complete burden on society and were left to drift for the rest of their life—as far as they could eke it out. There was no money spent on equipment and nothing on welfare. If that sounds surprising for 204 years ago, we have a few more recent episodes that could remind us of the same today.

The noble Lord, Lord Soley, has invited me to join forces with him in forming a committee to erect a monument to the heroes of that campaign and I have happily agreed to do so. He is committed to raising a statue to Mary Seacole, and I have a commitment to raising one to the warriors of suppressing the slave trade. We will work together to do so, though my only argument with the noble Lord is that Mary Seacole rates seven pages more than Winston Churchill in the history curriculum. I am not sure that that is entirely fair. In contrast, the suppression of the slave trade does not get a single paragraph and that is a disgrace.

As we stand today, we need a statue and I have a clear view in my mind about what it should look like. It should obviously carry the image of a heroic warrior at the front, but behind him I want the bodies of a dead wife and children. It would serve as a great reminder to the generations today of the sacrifice that has to be honoured as an obligation. In the immortal words of Nelson, they are a “bequest to the nation” which we must never fail. I am concerned that we do fail, and I have been delighted to hear the comments made on their behalf today. However, we are still not doing enough and I hope that a statue in those graphic terms might help to advance this cause.

My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord James. He is absolutely right. We have discussed this at some length and I will touch on that in a moment. One thing that I would add, and what is often forgotten about the loss of life, is that in that campaign more than 200,000 slaves were released and often taken back to Africa when possible. So it is a far more important campaign than people realise.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, and thank him for the help he has given me on the Arctic convoys, which I will talk about in a moment. What I really want to mention are memorials. We think of them as remembering individuals, as they do and should. However, they are also—this is where my views have changed, or developed, over the past 20 or 30 years—an educational process. They teach us about our history—not just the history of Britain but of the world. I will return to that in a moment. It has been touched on to some extent by others.

I want to mention the Arctic convoys because I frequently go to the west coast of Scotland. I have always known about the Arctic convoys and the dreadful conditions in which sailors from both the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy served. Not only were there constant air and naval attacks on them, but if the ice built up to a certain extent on merchant ships they simply turned over. If your ship turned over in that sea, you would die very quickly. I said that there ought to be a museum since there was not one and many people thought that there should be. I was proud to attend recently the 70th anniversary of the Arctic convoys at Loch Ewe on the west coast. I was delighted to learn that people were now trying to fund a convoy museum. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lee, and my noble friend Lord West, who have both indicated that they will in some way assist, if only in publicity or by lending their names to this group.

Jock Dempster, who is one of the veterans and chairman of the Russian Arctic Convoy Club, was presented with a medal by the Russians who were present. Americans and Canadians were present, as were some of our own people. However, there was very little recognition by the British Government of our involvement in the convoys. There is feeling about that. The Russians cannot understand why we do not remember it. The Russians teach their schoolchildren about the importance of the Arctic convoys. Their children know about it. They also know about it in the Russian ports in the Murmansk area. It is a classic example of an area that we have, somehow or other, allowed to slip from our memory.

There is now a charity that has been set up to build a Russian Arctic convoy museum. If anyone is interested in supporting it, they should look at the website. It is certainly something that I want to support and I have lent my name to it as a patron. It is very important that we remember the Arctic convoys. The charity would also like a medal to be struck for the Arctic convoys. I say to the Minister that I understand the problem of having separate medals for separate parts of a campaign. There is, after all, the Atlantic Star. However, I cannot believe that it is beyond our ability to come up with some additional way to recognise specific campaigns within a larger strategic area, such as the Battle of the Atlantic. The circumstances of the Arctic convoys were quite exceptional and brutal. I ask the Minister to look at ways of recognising that particularly heroic time.

The noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, has anticipated me. I was going to say a bit about the need for something on the slave trade. He talked about the loss of life; I have mentioned the number of slaves who were released. It is important because, as I have said before in this House, it is probably the world’s first example of a humanitarian intervention. As I have also said before in this House, when people rather loosely—and, in my view, foolishly—throw around claims about illegal wars, we must remember that several captains in the Royal Navy were brought before the court, as the noble Lord, Lord James, will know. Appeals were heard in this House, and they were charged with interfering with trade on the high seas and fined for it. That is an indication of how attitudes move. You have to say, “Thank heavens they continued”. That is an interesting aside on our history.

The noble Lord, Lord James, also mentioned the last charity that I want to mention. I declare an interest as unpaid chairman of the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal, which has been part of my educational process. Back in the 1970s, I was asked by some of the Caribbean people in my then constituency of Hammersmith to help to identify the grave, which had been overgrown, in Kensal Green Cemetery where Mary Seacole was buried. I knew about her background as a Crimean War nurse who was also greatly appreciated in Central America. There were no nurses, as such, then. Florence Nightingale put the nursing profession on the map but it is impossible to see Mary Seacole as anything other than a battlefield nurse. She went out on to the battlefield and looked after the wounded. She was a remarkable woman, who ended up being so popular in the United Kingdom when she returned from the Crimea bankrupt—because she had funded herself by running what was called the British Hotel there—that the troops here held concerts for three days to raise money for her. Troops do not do that unless they have a very positive memory of someone. Yet, by the beginning of the 20th century, Mary Seacole had been forgotten to our history. Both the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who I should thank for being a great supporter of Mary Seacole, recognise that British military history is full of international history, too. The British Indian Army has been mentioned on many occasions; there is Africa and so on. However, the people who alerted me to the grave of Mary Seacole in Kensal Green Cemetery were among the Caribbean people who came over to volunteer in 1939 and very often ended up servicing the anti-aircraft guns. We did not stand alone in 1940, we stood with the empire and dominions behind us and the contribution they made was enormous.

If you walk out into the Royal Gallery, look at Daniel Maclise’s picture of Nelson dying on the flagship and you will see a black sailor pointing up at the Frenchman who shot him. Look to the left of it and you will see what we would then have called Lascar seamen and women tending to the wounded and doing other tasks. The Royal Navy tells me that close to 200 sailors at Trafalgar were of African origin and that 20 per cent of those on Nelson’s flagship were non-British.

The values we defend and fight for are about freedom, democracy and the rule of law and the educational role here of all these things is important. If I succeed in raising funds for the Mary Seacole memorial it will be the first memorial to a black woman in Britain. That is also important. What she did for the military was profoundly important but what she did and still does today in the school curriculum is remind people that our history is not a narrow one, built just in this island alone; it is literally an international history and we rely on that to convey the message about freedom, democracy and the rule of law. I would ask Members to bear this in mind when they look at these charities. They are not just monuments of stone; they are monuments of feeling, of history and of thought.

My Lords, I, too, begin by thanking and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, on obtaining this timely and important debate and on his masterly and moving introduction. In the wording of his debate, he has provided a possible let-out for the Government to extract themselves from an unfortunate position with regard to the Armed Forces covenant, to which I shall return.

Tomorrow uniquely, at 11/11/11/11, like many others I shall be remembering the sacrifice made and the recognition of it not only by citizens in the UK but in other parts of the world. I would like to draw attention to four of those places.

One lovely morning in early January in 1966, with the remainder of B Company The Rifle Brigade, I went to pay my last respects to the five members of my company who had died or been killed in Borneo and would not be coming back to the United Kingdom with us, knowing that they would be looked after by the Singaporean gardeners from that incomparable organisation, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This has, in fact, happened.

Moving further west, I sometimes lecture at the battlefield of Gallipoli; a place of terrible beauty but also a place of extraordinary magnanimity which I can illustrate by two of the memorials. One witnessed by Lord Casey, later Governor-General of Australia, of a Turkish soldier carrying in a wounded Australian to the Australian lines. Secondly, a monolith beside that extraordinary Anzac Cove, a strip of sand on which the Anzac Corp was landed in error, containing the words of Kemal Atatürk, president of Turkey, who himself gained fame there.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives,

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country,

Therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets,

To us, where they lie side by side, here in this country of ours.

You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries,

Wipe away your tears.

Your sons are now lying in our bosom, and are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land,

They have become our sons as well.”

They are wonderfully magnanimous words. And then I move further west to Hermanville in Normandy, where every year there is a ceremony, started by the French in 1946, with the 3rd Division which landed there on D-day. After has boat has gone into the sea and thrown out a wreath, and the French flags are lowered, a party led by the mayor and the general march to the village, where they are joined by the schoolchildren. In the cemetery, after the British flags have been lowered, the schoolchildren put flowers on every one of the 3rd Division graves. They have done that since 1946.

Finally, I move further west to Ocracoke Island on the coast of North Carolina, where I once went for a memorable weekend. My wife and I thought we had found a snow storm on the ground, but it was in fact a cloud of snow geese in migration. There, when having breakfast before going fishing, the man running the restaurant said, “Have you come to see our cemetery?”. I asked, “What cemetery?”. There are four graves of sailors from HMS “Bedfordshire”, which was a trawler sunk in May 1942, that are looked after every year by the United States Coast Guard; and Her Majesty the Queen is sending a new British flag this year to mark the anniversary.

Those examples show that our dead are acknowledged and recognised all over the world. The Armed Forces community this year was given a huge boost by the announcement of the Armed Forces covenant—an enduring covenant between the people of the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government and all those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown, and their families. This covenant is based on trust and goodwill. Each of those three partners has obligations. Among those laid on the Government is,

“special treatment for the injured and bereaved, as proper return for their sacrifice”.

The despicable defiance of the covenants by the metal thieves has been referred to by many noble Lords during this debate. However, to me, much more serious is the continued defiance of the covenant by the Government and, in particular, I name the Secretary of State for Justice in his refusal to appoint a chief coroner—as mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Walker, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and the noble Lord, Lord Glasman. There were long-standing complaints about the failure of the coronial system to serve families up until the passing of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which appointed a chief coroner. The campaign was orchestrated by the Royal British Legion and the charity, INQUEST. Since then, despite the fact that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted for the chief coroner, the Secretary of State for Justice has opposed that appointment on grounds of cost. However, the costs he uses are spurious, grossly inflated and have never been compared with the revised proposals made to him. Furthermore, he has produced no supporting documentation or explanatory calculations of cost-benefit analysis. If the costs were as high as he alleges, the Royal British Legion and INQUEST would share his concerns.

I am saying this not just because this is the eve of Remembrance Day, but because I believe that it would be a tragedy if the Armed Forces covenant was discredited before it was introduced. There is great danger of that happening over the issue of the chief coroner. I ask the Minister to say to the Secretary of State for Justice that it is not too late for him to reflect on the devotion of the Singaporean gardeners, the words of Kemal Atatürk, the actions of the schoolchildren in Hermanville and those of the US Coast Guard in Ocracoke. He should draw back before 23 November, recognising the damage that might be done to the trust in the Government’s honouring of the obligation that they owe to those who pay the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of this great realm of ours.

My Lords, it is always a privilege to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and it is a privilege to follow him in this debate, which was so eloquently and movingly introduced by my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas.

When I went to the Printed Paper Office to obtain the list of speakers, I saw that I was the final Member to speak from the Back Benches, and I wondered whether there would be anything left to say. However, as I have listened to every word in this debate, certain themes have come through.

I could not help but reflect, as I listened—particularly to the speeches of my noble friend Lord James and the noble Lord, Lord Soley—on the historic nature of this place. It was in this Chamber that Winston Churchill made almost all of his great wartime speeches, the Chamber of the House of Commons having been destroyed. As he made those speeches, I know that from time to time he looked up at the statues of the Barons of Runnymede, still above us as we speak today. The historical perspective brought to this debate, especially by the speeches of my noble friend Lord James and the noble Lord, Lord Soley, made me realise that although of course we have focused particularly on the sacrifices of the First and Second World Wars, there have throughout the ages been those who have defended the realm and the liberties of Magna Carta, the very foundation of the freedoms that we enjoy in this country today.

One has only to go to the Royal Gallery—the noble Lord, Lord Soley, talked about this—to see not only the wonderful Maclise mural of Trafalgar but, opposite it, the mural of Waterloo. In 2015, we shall commemorate not only the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta but the 200th anniversary of Waterloo and, for good measure, the 600th anniversary of Agincourt. That gives a sense of historical perspective and belonging. Throughout our ages, the liberties built on Magna Carta and developed through a gradually evolving free Parliament have had to be defended on the field of battle and on the oceans many times by brave, brave men and, more latterly, by brave, brave women as well. We should also remember, in the context of anniversaries, that 2015 will see the 750th anniversary of the de Montfort Parliament.

All that, I hope, gives us a sense of belonging to an institution which is the ultimate bulwark of our freedoms. The noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, and others have rightly talked about the sacrifices made in more recent conflicts. I shall be, God willing, at a remembrance service in Lincoln Cathedral on Sunday—the first time that I have not been in my little village church in Staffordshire, which I left recently—remembering the fallen. In Lincolnshire, we remember particularly the heroes of the RAF, and we shall be remembering two from the Royal Air Force who have recently given their lives, not in conflict but in perfecting their skills.

All of us have our individual and personal memories, which bring alive to us the sacrifices that we are seeking to underline in this Chamber today. I think of a trunk that I opened when my dear late mother died in 2000 at the age of 90 and discovering for the first time that she lost six of her cousins in the First World War—all of her male cousins, I believe. I think, too, of the services that we have had in the village of Enville, where I lived for well over 35 years, where, every Remembrance Day, the roll of honour is read. The Royal British Legion assembles from Enville and the neighbouring, rather larger village of Kinver, and it takes more than five minutes to read the names of those who fell, a number of them from specific families.

All that, as has been emphasised today in notable speeches by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, and others, underlines the debt that we collectively owe and the obligation that we collectively have. I am so glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, in his place, because he made a brief but moving speech. He referred to one thing that I specifically want to talk about now. Earlier this year, we had a Second Reading of the Remembrance Sunday Bill promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity. It is a Bill which I introduced in the House of Commons shortly before I left that House in May last year. I was sad that the then Government obstructed its speedy passage on to the statute book, as I made plain in my speech to this place earlier this year. I was sad, too, that I did not get a more encouraging response from my noble friend who was replying from the Dispatch Box. It seems to me that giving Remembrance Sunday a status equivalent to Christmas Day and Easter Day as a day when the tills stop ringing, when people have a chance to pause and remember, and when, as the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, said, they can be with their families, can do only good. It is a very little thing that we are asking for. It is an extremely modest measure but one that would mean a very great deal to war widows, about whom the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and my noble friend Lady Fookes spoke so eloquently earlier, and to all those to whom the right reverend Prelate referred. I realise that it is not my noble friend’s departmental responsibility but I advised him that I would be referring to this. I hope that he will be able to give a little encouragement and make at least two people—the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, and me—very happy today.

Finally, we have recently touched on the encampment at St Paul’s. I do not want to go into all the details now, as there is not time. There is not a Member in this House who does not defend the right to free speech and free protest, but I say this to those encamped at St Paul’s. Remembrance Sunday is but three days away. Remember that you are not there because of your own actions; you have the freedom to be there because of what generations of men and women have done in the service of their country. Therefore, I hope that, if you cannot pack up your tents and go—which is something that I should like to see—you will at least watch reverently and attentively and do nothing to disturb the solemnity of the day.

My Lords, I have listened very carefully to all the very wise words that have been spoken in all the speeches and I agree with much of what has been said. I have been wondering whether, at my great age of 89, I am the only person in this Chamber who was alive and had a job during the time that we have in mind.

I should like to pay a heartfelt tribute and express immense gratitude to the staff of the Royal Star & Garter home who looked after my wounded husband until his death. I owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. Their work, thank goodness, continues.

Perhaps I may also mention members of the Home Guard. I particularly do so because my father, who won an MC in the First World War, commanded the Marylebone branch, which included the BBC, Harley Street, Oxford Street and the Windmill Theatre.

Noble Lords may well laugh—they have very good reason to do so. My mother used to go away for one night during the year. Now your Lordships have ruined my entire speech.

The Marylebone area was very heavily bombed and many of my father’s comrades were casualties. Indeed, there were casualties among the Home Guard throughout the war. Its members did a wonderful job; they were brave men.

My Lords, thanks have already been expressed a number of times to the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, for securing this debate and for his opening contribution. Nevertheless, I still wish to take this opportunity to add my own. It is only appropriate that we should be having this debate close to Remembrance Sunday, which the nation observes in the middle of this month because it was on 11 November 1918 that the guns finally fell silent on the western front. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and my noble friend Lord Soley have quite rightly reminded us that it was not just British military personnel who have made such sacrifices on our behalf over the years.

Remembrance Day enables us to commemorate in a very visible and dignified manner the sacrifices, including the ultimate sacrifice, made in our name by our Armed Forces, both in years gone by and currently by those on active service at home and abroad. In your Lordships’ House, we admire their commitment, their patriotism and their courage, just as do the overwhelming majority of the people of this country. That feeling is reflected, as has already been said, by, for example, the people of Royal Wootton Bassett and in another way by the determination of the Football Association to ensure that the England team should be able to wear poppies during their match this weekend. This feeling is not reflected in the sickening actions of a handful of people who think it appropriate to strip the metal plates from war memorials with the names of those who have given their lives. I share the hope expressed by my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester and the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, that action—if necessary new legislation—will be taken very soon to assist in bringing this despicable practice to an end. This practice is particularly abhorrent to the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group, which does such important and invaluable work in remembering those who have fallen by promoting and supporting the protection, conservation and interpretation of war graves, war memorials and battle sites.

We know that other countries are planning to commemorate the centenary in 2014 of the outbreak of the First World War. I hope that the Government will also be commemorating the centenary in an appropriate and fulsome manner which reflects the significance of the Great War in the history of our nation and the enormous sacrifice that was made by so many. In that regard, I welcome the appointment of Dr Andrew Murrison MP as the Prime Minister’s co-ordinator of the centenary commemoration.

We tend even today to think in terms of men when we talk about the courage and commitment of our Armed Forces. We do not always recognise the major role that women play and have played in the service of our country, a point of which we were reminded in a debate in your Lordships’ House last June initiated by my noble friend Lady Crawley. She asked what steps the Government were taking to recognise the contribution made by women put on active service by the Special Operations Executive in the Second World War. As my noble friend said in that debate, and as the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, reiterated today, the women concerned served in occupied France, acting as couriers, wireless operators and saboteurs, working with the resistance movements to disrupt the occupation and clear the path for the allied advance. Needless to say, many of these brave women never returned. For that reason alone, they must never be forgotten.

In the past day or so, we have read in the press about an apparent suicide pact between an Army veteran and his wife who, among other things, were, it appears, struggling financially with very little to live on. Something in that case—for whatever reason—would appear to have gone tragically wrong. However, that is not the norm. We should recognise the contribution being made by many local authorities in the developing community covenants. The service charities also do tremendous work and it is only right that we should express our thanks to them for their work not only in supporting our veterans and their families—not least with the difficult adjustment that some find making the transition back into civilian life—but also for the support they provide for the men and women of today’s Armed Forces.

The welfare of our Armed Forces, as well as the adequate equipping and training of our Armed Forces, is of paramount importance. The previous Government published a Service Personnel Command Paper which was the first cross-governmental strategy on the welfare of Armed Forces personnel, putting the welfare of our Armed Forces as a mainstream policy commitment through all government departments. Among other things, it doubled compensation payments for the most serious injuries; it doubled the welfare grant for the families of those on operations; and, since housing is an issue that has been mentioned today, it led to increased investment in service accommodation. We now have, after a campaign by the Royal British Legion and a political row, the military covenant enshrined in law to ensure that no disadvantage arises from service. I do not doubt that it is the Government’s intention to seek to adhere to the principles of the military covenant, but it will be through their actions, not their intentions, that they will be judged.

There are three issues to which I should like to refer and which I hope the Government will address. The first concerns the Office of the Chief Coroner, to which a number of your Lordships, including my noble friend Lord Glasman, have already referred. The office of the chief coroner has been legislated for, yet it is being abolished by the Government. The Government say that they are concerned about the cost, but arguments that it can be implemented at lower cost have been consistently and resolutely ignored. All bereaved families, and not least bereaved service families, deserve an expert independent coronial system at the most difficult time.

In a letter some 10 days ago to the Minister concerned, the Royal British Legion said that it was mystified by some statements that he had made in the other place some three days earlier. The letter went on to say:

“At this poignant time of year when the Nation pauses to remember, it seems incredible that the Ministry of Justice should be in such a determined rush to take away from those brave families the support they desperately need and so deserve—the Chief Coroner which Parliament, with cross-party support, promised them less than two years ago”.

The Royal British Legion regards this issue of the office of the chief coroner as,

“the first big test of the Armed Forces Covenant since it was written into law and a very important opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant”.

The Royal British Legion is right.

The second issue is military pensions, which have already been referred to by my noble friend Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde. The permanent change to a lower rate of indexation will significantly reduce the value of pensions for soldiers and war widows. This year-on-year change will disproportionately affect service personnel because they rely on their pensions at earlier ages than almost anyone else. According to the Forces Pension Society, a corporal who has lost both legs will miss out on £500,000 in pension and benefit-related payments. A 34 year-old wife of a staff sergeant killed in Afghanistan would be almost £750,000 worse off over her lifetime. These are big figures, and this is a change which does not just apply to the current period of deficit reduction but will continue to apply permanently, stretching way beyond the period of deficit reduction.

The third issue relates to cuts in personnel. In October 2010, when the SDSR was published, we were told that 17,000 personnel would have to go across the three services. As of July 2011, however, we were told that 22,000 would have to go. We need to end the uncertainty about the future size of our Armed Forces and we need to know exactly how many redundancies there will be and where. Uncertainty over cuts and the threat of redundancy does not help morale, and service personnel deserve clear answers to enable them to plan for their own and their families’ futures.

Service personnel make many sacrifices, as my noble friend Lord Parekh pointed out. They are often separated from their families for long periods. They often work in extremely dangerous conditions and situations, risking their lives or facing the prospect of suffering life-changing injuries whether physical or mental. Neither are they able to have the same political or contractual rights that apply in other occupations. For those reasons, they should not be treated like other public sector workers but instead deserve special recognition.

Our nation comes together at this time of year in particular to show its respect and solidarity for and with those who serve and have served, and in particular those who have sacrificed their lives. The noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, has also given your Lordships’ House the opportunity to do just that. I hope that the noble Lord will feel that today’s debate, which I know will be further enhanced by the Minister’s speech, has achieved the objective for which he hoped.

My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Selkirk on proposing this debate and on his very moving speech.

Tomorrow, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month—and, for the first time, of the 11th year—we shall mark the moment when the guns fell silent at the end of the First World War. I wonder whether our forebears, when they first introduced this mark of respect in 1919, believed that it would last this long, or that a second world war and countless other smaller conflicts would be added to the ledger of remembrance. Indeed, it is hard for us to put ourselves in their place—not just to grasp the sheer horror of the conflict which had just ended, but to appreciate their hope that they had at least witnessed the war to end all wars.

The last survivors of the trenches have passed away, and we know to our cost that war continues to tear nations and families apart. Yet I believe that we still feel a connection to those who fought in the Great War, not because we watch episodes of “Downton Abbey”, but because every family in the land was affected by the conflict. It was truly the nation at war.

Remembrance Day is not just about the First World War, nor even about the two world wars. It marks the loss and debt we feel to all those who have died in the service of their country. Sadly, since the last time the guns fired to mark Remembrance Sunday, we have lost 35 brave personnel in Afghanistan. The world has changed enormously since the trenches of the First World War, and so has this country, and so have its Armed Forces.

What have not changed are the spirit and dedication which characterise our soldiers, sailors and airmen in all that they undertake. This past year, in Afghanistan and over Libya, countering piracy in the Indian Ocean or even walking to the North Pole, they have again acted with courage, professionalism and commitment, and I pay tribute to them.

Remembrance unites our country. The ceremonies at the Cenotaph are impressive and moving, bringing together Her Majesty the Queen and members of the Royal Family, the heads of the political parties, military leaders and Commonwealth ambassadors with thousands of the men and women who took part in the conflicts of the recent and more distant past.

That is only a part of what is happening. Up and down the nation, ceremonies will be taking place and wreaths will be laid, to commemorate local sacrifices and local heroes. In Afghanistan, services will be held, to remember not only the many who have given their lives in the past, but friends and colleagues whose memory is still very real. From the youngest recruit to the oldest veteran, their faces will show the mixture of sadness and pride that sums up the spirit of these ceremonies: sadness that they gave their lives, but pride that they did so in the performance of their duty and in the service of their country.

The poppy is the enduring symbol of this act of remembrance. It symbolises hope as well as memory. Every poppy seller, and every poppy buyer, is doing their bit to ensure that we remember the sacrifices our Armed Forces have made to make a better world, and that we do not forget. This is the season when the work of the Royal British Legion is particularly prominent, but that vital work carries on, every day of the year, to support the living.

The legion and its fellow service and ex-service charities are the channel through which the people of this country express their gratitude and respect for the men and women who have fought for them. The volunteers who form the backbone of these charities deserve our special thanks at this time of year.

As my noble friend Lord Selkirk points out, remembrance of sacrifice is not some optional extra, which is a good thing to do, if we have time. It is a debt, an obligation on all of us, whatever our age and whatever our political persuasion. That is why it is so repulsive to read of war memorials being vandalised to sell for scrap metal. A number of noble Lords mentioned this, including my noble friend Lord Selkirk, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester—to whom I pay tribute for the really important work he does as chairman of the War Heritage Group—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and my noble friend Lord Lee. In responding to this issue, I can do no more than repeat what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in the other place on 2 November:

“We are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to put in place an action plan to deal with this, which will involve looking again at the whole regulation of scrap metal dealers. We are determined to do that to put a stop to this appalling crime”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/11/11; col. 918.]

My noble friend Lord Lee made an excellent suggestion that schools might adopt their local war memorials. As part of their service to the community, members of all Ministry of Defence-sponsored cadet forces are being encouraged to take part in the In Memoriam 2014 project. This involves the locating and logging of the thousands of war memorials across the United Kingdom and marking then with smart water, which enables the metal components to be forensically tracked should they be stolen. It is therefore both helping to tackle the problem and raising awareness of the sacrifices that have been made.

It is also objectionable when groups seek to exploit this solemn occasion to further their own agendas. That is why it is so distressing to read of thoughtless actions, which lead to poppy sellers being treated as a nuisance or a health and safety hazard.

I will say a little about what the Government have done to honour the debt. It takes many forms, but starts from the moment that those who have given their lives arrive back in the UK. This year has seen the return of repatriation flights to RAF Brize Norton, after several years of flying in to RAF Lyneham. During those years, we have seen something quite extraordinary, as the people of Wootton Bassett have come together to show respect for the fallen, in a dignified and solemn way. They never looked for any recognition. However, I was delighted that Her Majesty the Queen was pleased to bestow the title of Royal Wootton Bassett on the town, as a permanent reminder of when it stood for all of us.

The example set by the people of Wootton Bassett placed a spotlight on the new arrangements for RAF Brize Norton. Quite rightly, the nation was concerned that we should get this right. I believe that we have done so. The new purpose-built facilities on the base give the deceased and their families the dignity they deserve. Oxfordshire County Council and the Thames Valley Police have sought to ensure that the route which the hearse takes after it leaves Brize Norton is both suitable for the cortege and gives an opportunity for members of the public to pay their own tribute.

Today will see the repatriation of Private Matthew Haseldin, who was tragically killed in Afghanistan last week. I know that he will be given all suitable marks of respect.

Each death leaves behind a grieving family. Another part of our debt to the fallen is that we should support their loved ones to the best of our ability. Last month, when your Lordships were debating the Armed Forces Bill, we recognised the importance of the inquest process as part of that support. The inquest has a crucial role to play in helping families understand what has happened and perhaps in helping them to come to terms with it. The Ministry of Defence will continue to work with coroners and families to make inquests as effective and valuable as possible. As your Lordships know, the Secretary of State is now under an obligation to cover this topic in his annual Armed Forces covenant report.

Several noble Lords have mentioned the position of the chief coroner. This will of course be debated in this House on 23 November. However, I can address the nugget put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. The Government are clear that urgent reform is required to ensure that the coronial system offers a much better service to the bereaved families of service personnel. That is why we are ensuring that coroners conducting military inquests can access proper, specialist military training and that inquests can be transferred to locations close to the homes of bereaved families. We are also introducing a new charter to set out the clear, enforceable standards that everyone should expect at an inquest. We are appointing a Minister, supported by representative bereaved families, to be in charge of driving and monitoring these much needed changes.

The inquest should and does help bereaved families to come to terms with their grief, but the loss that they have suffered is permanent, with the greatest impact perhaps on children. That is why it is so important that we have introduced scholarships for the children of those who die in active service to enable them to go on to further and higher education.

Honouring the debt to the fallen is the sum total of a host of small actions. It is honoured when SSAFA organises support groups for the bereaved. It is honoured when regimental associations make sure that they keep in touch with the families of the deceased. It is honoured when the Ministry of Defence and other agencies of the Government conduct their dealings in a sensitive and respectful fashion.

Last week the Armed Forces Act 2011 received Royal Assent, and the Armed Forces covenant is recognised in law for the first time. It has signalled the Government’s determination to rebuild the covenant. The debt that we owe to the fallen is an important part of that wider moral obligation to recognise what our Armed Forces do for us, and we will not neglect it.

In this debate about remembrance, it is fitting that I should again draw attention to the contributions of the War Widows Association, as many other noble Lords have done. Of course, my noble friend Lady Fookes is president of the association and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, is vice-president. We had an opportunity to debate its work on its 40th anniversary on 8 June. It campaigns tirelessly and effectively for the widows and widowers of all conflicts, who occupy a special place in our thoughts. I am always impressed by how those who have suffered such a tragic loss are able to turn that loss into such a positive force for good, and I pay tribute to them.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, paid tribute to the work of Help for Heroes, and I echo what he said. My noble friend Lady Fookes pointed out the wonderful work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. My noble friend Lady Trumpington paid tribute to the Star and Garter and the Home Guard. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, made a very eloquent speech about the contribution of Indian troops in both world wars. I assure her that we shall always remember the millions of Indian soldiers who supported us. I was very honoured to represent the Prime Minister last night at the remembrance meeting of Indian soldiers killed in both world wars, and to lay a wreath at the annual ceremony at the memorial gates on Constitution Hill that the noble Baroness did so much to make possible. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, spoke movingly of the contribution in both world wars of the Irish, from all backgrounds.

My noble friend Lord Lee asked whether the Royal British Legion visits schools and can sell poppies. I understand that the Royal British Legion is active in a number of ways to engage with children and schools on remembrance issues. For example, it produces a learning pack that schools can download from its website. It also offers specialist tours to battlefields and cemeteries and its members visit schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, asked about the appointment of Dr Murrison, which he welcomed. My honourable friend the Member for South West Wiltshire, Dr Murrison, will act as the Prime Minister’s special representative and co-ordinator for events commemorating World War I. We are aware that a number of Governments, including France, Belgium and, most notably, Australia, are quite well advanced in their thinking. As our own plans develop, we will ensure the proper engagement of all interested parties in the UK and overseas. I very much look forward to keeping in touch with the noble Lord on this important issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who of course is a commissioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned the FIFA compromise to let England wear poppies on their armbands on Saturday, which we feel is a very sensible way forward. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, also asked about ID cards. We are working to incorporate a veterans card as part of a new contract for the defence discount scheme. Rollout is planned during next year, but I should make it clear that these will not be formal identity cards.

My noble friend Lord Lee mentioned the National Memorial Arboretum. There is no intention to reduce the current MoD grant in aid to the arboretum. Although it is independent of the Government, we provide it with a grant in aid to defray the costs of maintaining it as a place of national importance of commemoration.

My noble friend Lord Cormack, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, in, if I may say, an excellent speech, raised the Bill to extend Christmas Day and Easter Day restrictions to Remembrance Sunday. I can assure my noble friend that we are consulting with other departments on this issue and within the department.

The noble Lord, Lord Soley, asked about the Arctic convoy medal. The Government have agreed that there should be a fresh review of the rules governing the award of military medals. This will be conducted by an independent reviewer with full consultation with interested parties. The scope of the review and who is to lead it are expected to be announced shortly. This will include the issues surrounding Arctic convoy veterans.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, raised Armed Forces pensions. Specific proposals from the Armed Forces have not yet been formulated. Consequently, it is too early to inform service personnel of what the changes will mean for individuals. It is clear that a new pension scheme must be acceptable to service personnel, highly competitive in relation to other schemes in recognition of the unique commitment of the Armed Forces, retention positive in pulling personnel through to key career points and aligned with the development of the new employment model.

On the third point made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Walker, personnel preparing for, deployed on or recovering from operations, such as Operation Herrick in Afghanistan, will be exempt from selection for redundancy unless they apply for it.

Concerns have been expressed by noble Lords about the position of widows who lose their pension on remarriage or cohabitation because they fall into the gap between 1973 and 2005. This reflects the fact that pensions paid to widows under the 1975 Armed Forces pension scheme, where the death was not due to service, cease upon remarriage or cohabitation. This is not the case for survivors’ pensions paid under the 2005 scheme, which are paid for life. I fully understand why this difference appears to be unfair. Nevertheless, successive Governments have maintained the principle that improvements to public service pensions should not be applied retrospectively. Addressing one issue would increase the pressure to address the legacy issues in all public sector pension schemes. This would have huge financial implications and is simply unaffordable.

I am running out of time, but I will address all those other questions I have been asked in the form of a letter.

Remembrance is not just about passive contemplation or private grief. It is about public action—action to look after the living who have suffered as a result of sacrifice, action to ensure that our young people understand their history, action to treasure the values which so many have fought and died for. In the moment of calm when the minute’s silence falls across the nation tomorrow, we should all bear that in mind.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for giving reassurances on many of the subjects which have been raised today, particularly that the matter of the desecration of war memorials will be followed up with vigour in due course.

On the issue of protecting a war widow’s pension, I sense that the mood of the House is very sympathetic to the Minister doing everything he can within the framework of what is possible. On the chief coroner question, it might be a great help if the attention of the relevant Secretary of State could be drawn to what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who made an excellent speech, I very much hope that the memorial gates at Hyde Park Corner commemorate appropriately all those from India who played such a role in the last century—India being the world’s largest democracy today.

The suppression of the slave trade, which the noble Lord, Lord James, spoke about, went on for a very long time. When I was a small boy, I was told that my grandfather, who was a midshipman, had to play a very small role in that. I think that story should be better known because the British and the Commonwealth have been involved in humanitarian projects and objectives on many occasions in the past.

The noble Lord, Lord Soley spoke very well about the commemoration of the Arctic convoys, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lee, on the need for a memorial for RAF Bomber Command, which I hope will be opened before very long.

Remembrance is very important for the families of all those who fell in battle. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, touched upon the role of women. The best way I can illustrate the importance of remembrance is by quoting a very few words claimed to have been used by Leo Marks to contact Violette Szabo, to whom I have already paid tribute, in a wartime code. Violette Szabo’s husband Etienne had been killed during the battle for El Alamein. Violette herself later worked behind enemy lines. In the film “Carve her Name with Pride”, the words were used to symbolise the wartime love and loss experienced by a warrior for a married partner who had been killed. It is really remarkable for its shortness and simplicity. It reads as follows:

“The life that I have

Is all that I have

And the life that I have

Is yours.

The love that I have

Of the life that I have

Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have,

A rest I shall have

Yet death will be but a pause

For the peace of my years

In the long green grass

Will be yours and yours

And yours”.

Motion agreed.

EUC Report: Grass-roots Sport

Motion to Take Note

Moved By

That this House takes note of the Report of the European Union Committee on Grassroots Sport and the European Union (16th Report, HL Paper 130)

My Lords, as London and the UK gear up for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and with the EU year of active ageing rapidly approaching, the publication of the EU Committee’s report, Grassroots Sport and the European Union, makes this debate timely. When the Social Policies and Consumer Protection EU Sub-Committee, which I chair, began its inquiry at the beginning of this year, it was not immediately obvious to all of us that the EU had any specific locus in the sporting arena. Your Lordships may be aware, however, that the Lisbon treaty, which entered into force at the end of 2009, granted the EU a formal competence in the field of sport for the first time. This now permits the EU to support, co-ordinate and complement the actions of member states, which retain primary responsibility for sports policy. To this end, the Commission published a communication on developing the European dimension in sport on 18 January 2011. It was this document that prompted us to conduct the inquiry.

The report considered how the new competence could best be used to support grass-roots sport by extending the benefits of participation to individuals, teams and communities. It focused on grass roots rather than on professional sport in light of the fact that one of the reasons for developing an EU sports policy and therefore introducing a competence was recognition of the social significance of sport. While it is fair to say that there was a degree of scepticism among some members of the committee at the start of the inquiry, we heard powerful evidence from a range of stakeholders that convinced the committee at an early stage that sport can make a valuable contribution to policy areas in which the EU has a stake. For example, we heard from volunteers of Street Games who run sports projects in disadvantaged communities where they have reduced anti-social behaviour and brought together diverse or fragmented communities. As part of its inquiry, the committee visited Swiss Cottage School in Camden to learn first hand how disabled children and young people in the area are benefiting from being involved in grass-roots sports. In addition, we heard about projects that are helping people into education, employment and training by developing skills such as team work, as well as confidence, and other initiatives that aim to reduce social isolation among elderly and migrant communities.

Sport alone will obviously not solve these complex social problems, but the committee became convinced that it is a powerful tool which policy-makers should use. The committee’s report recommends ways in which the EU and the UK can exploit the full potential offered by a sport through mainstreaming it into their policy-making and using it to deliver their objectives in a broad range of areas, including health, education, social inclusion and equalities. Increasing the participation of underrepresented groups such as older people, the unemployed, disabled people, migrant communities and other disadvantaged groups, should be a particular priority, as well as recognising the importance of recruiting and retaining volunteers.

The EU can also affect sport in a number of less obvious ways, and it is here that the committee considered that the new competence could be particularly helpful in ensuring that sport is taken into account. For example, EU legislation on the single market and intellectual property can ultimately affect the amount of money available for grass-roots sports projects. Our reports suggested ways in which the EU can avoid placing unnecessary regulatory or legislative burdens on sport, particularly when they affect volunteers, who are essential to grass-roots activity. In this respect, we recommended a review of EU legislation by the Commission, similar to that recently undertaken in the UK to identify regulatory burdens and ideally remove them in due course.

Although there have been signs that the Commission is starting to integrate sport into policy-making and funding programmes, we did not consider that it was taking place consistently enough. We considered that the EU could adopt a more focused role through the Commission’s sport unit in making a more compelling case for the integration of sport in a wider range of policy initiatives. This could be effected through data collection and research, for example, particularly with regard to the evidence base for the social outcomes that sport can facilitate, through improving mechanisms by which member states and grass-roots organisations can share best practice, making funding available through truly transnational projects via a dedicated sports programme and through recognising that more general EU funding streams, such as the structural funds, can also offer significant potential to grass-roots sports. While we accept that resources for any funding streams specific to sport are likely to be small, we are still hopeful that the matter will receive the attention that it deserves during the current negotiations in Brussels regarding the next multi-annual financial framework for the period 2014-20.

The redistributed revenues from the broadcasting of professional sport also provide a significant source of funding for grass-roots sport. The treaty now allows for the specific nature of sport to be taken into account in the assessment of commercial arrangements, such as collective selling and territoriality, that had previously come under scrutiny for their compliance with EU competition and internal market legislation. We welcome the Commission’s recognition of the benefits to be derived from collective selling. However, the uncertainty over what the specific nature of sport entails has been a long-standing concern of stakeholders.

Your Lordships may be aware that this matter received media coverage last month as a result of court action taken by a UK publican, Karen Murphy, who has been fighting for the right to air Premier League games using a Greek TV decoder. The European Court of Justice, which took note of the new article in the treaty and the requirement to recognise the specificity of sport, ruled that national laws which prohibited the import, sale or use of foreign decoder cards were contrary to the freedom to provide service. While not providing an absolute green light for publicans across the land, especially regarding copyright issues, this decision could nevertheless have major implications for the Premier League and lead to cheaper viewing arrangements for foreign broadcasts. The implications for the funding of grass-roots sport from broadcasting revenues are far from clear, particularly as lower subscriptions may, of course, increase the volume of subscribers.

Digital piracy of sporting events is another issue of increasing concern, and our report recommended that sport be included in the Commission’s work on the digital agenda. Similarly, we recommended that any work resulting from the Commission’s Green Paper on online gambling takes sport into account. We heard divergent evidence on whether the gambling industry should be required to pay a fair return for the use of sport’s intellectual property. This is a complex issue, and we recommended that the Government and the Commission analyse the French levy and consult more widely on the issue.

Lastly, we concluded that the Commission needed to do more to ensure that the voice of grass-roots sport is sufficiently heard. Dialogue between the Commission and sports stakeholders is currently dominated by professional sport, particularly football, and is therefore not truly representative. Our report recommended that the Commission should put in place enhanced measures to inform grass-roots organisations about work being undertaken at the EU level and the opportunities available to them. The EU Sports Platform, as chaired by the ex-Taoiseach John Bruton, should help with this.

We also suggested ways in which the EU working groups, which progress many of the EU’s initiatives in this area, could be more productive and focused, including making use of smaller grass-roots organisations with expertise in specific areas where appropriate. In the UK context, we considered that Sport Northern Ireland, sportscotland and Sport Wales should be invited to join the DCMS EU Sport Stakeholder Group, which is currently only attended by Sport England.

Hugh Robertson MP, Minister for Sport and the Olympics, wrote to us on 22 May this year to set out the Government’s response. There is clearly a lot of common ground between our views and those of the Government on the issues we dealt with in the report. We welcome in particular their commitment to ensuring that the contribution of sport to other EU policy areas, including the Europe 2020 objectives, is recognised in the work plan for sport for 2011-14, as well as being mainstream throughout the EU’s broader activities. We also welcome their commitment to increased participation, including through volunteering, and in line with their London 2012 Singapore promise across government departments and building on their existing engagement with the devolved Administrations.

The Government were less persuaded of the committee’s recommendation to establish an EU sport programme as a specific funding stream under the next multi-annual financial framework, which we note does not form part of the Commission’s recent proposals in this respect. However, the Government did support the committee’s recommendation that sport should be mainstreamed through other funding instruments, including the structural funds, and they undertook to promote such opportunities to the UK sports bodies. However, the Government did not indicate whether that policy would be integrated into the UK’s negotiation stance in the next round of structural funds. We look to the Minister to tell us more about the Government’s intentions in that regard.

The Government also supported the committee’s recommendations on the need to address the digital piracy of sporting events in work on the digital agenda, as well as accepting the committee’s conclusion that too often EU legislation in unrelated areas unintentionally adversely impacts upon sport, particularly on volunteers. They also accept that there needs to be better vigilance and better use made of the impact assessment process. The EU’s impact on grass-roots sport would surely pass unnoticed without adequate dialogue between the Commission and the sports organisations on the ground. In this respect, the Government support our recommendations on the need for such dialogue to be more representative and outcome-based and for the Commission to communicate better, particularly to smaller organisations, the opportunities available to them at EU level.

We also received a response to our report from the European Commission in September this year. We were encouraged to read that the Commission was largely supportive of our report’s conclusions and recommendations, although it also suggested that financial constraints may prevent certain measures being adopted to improve dialogue between it and sports organisations.

The committee understands that the Council will adopt further conclusions on the role of voluntary activities in sport in promoting active citizenship and, in the wake of the recent international cricketing no-ball controversy, on combating match-fixing and promoting good governance in sport more generally. In similar vein, the Commission is currently developing its approach to online gambling following the publication of its Green Paper, and the committee will look forward to considering any proposals that may result from that process.

Since the responses from the Government and Commission were received, I have also had the pleasure of giving an address about our report to a conference in London that was organised by one of our main witnesses during the inquiry, the Sport and Recreation Alliance. The Commission and the European Parliament were also involved in that event, so it provided an excellent opportunity to make the committee’s views known on this matter.

I hope that my remarks today have demonstrated that the EU’s new competence potentially offers real benefit to sport and the millions of people who enjoy participating in it across Europe. The committee is hopeful that the competence will be used to ensure that even more people can reap the benefits of doing so, and we expect that the EU’s work in this area will only develop further over time. As sport is truly international, it seemed only reasonable that the EU should have a strong role in that context, as long as grass-roots activities at the local level continue to receive the support that they require and deserve. In that respect, we are hopeful that the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will provide a lasting sporting legacy without taking much needed funds away from grass-roots sports. I look forward to hearing from other noble Lords, and of course from the Minister on behalf of the Government, regarding this important matter. I beg to move.

My Lords, this is a fascinating report and a particularly worthwhile subject to investigate. Sub-Committee G has produced a paper to the expected high standard, ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey. I should add that while I am a member of the committee now, I was not in place during the course of the report.

The committee has looked at a subject that requires, and has been given, in-depth investigation. I look forward to the response from the Minister, particularly in response to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The European Union has the ability to develop and make a difference to the success of grass-roots sport. It will be able to integrate sport into policy-making and funding streams and to encourage more member states to improve their own performance, both on the playing fields and in letting grass-roots sport thrive.

The great benefits of grass-roots sport and taking part stand repetition. As the noble Baroness mentioned, sport is good for health and education. With regard to health, as we all know, we are in the midst of a massive obesity epidemic in this country that is creating a population with a high incidence of type 2 diabetes. This, I might add, is costing the British taxpayer almost £1 million an hour. I am not, of course, saying that grass-roots sport is a cure-all for all things obese, but it can certainly help. I also mentioned education. There is the physical side, including fitness and skills, and there are the social skills. Something that is often forgotten in competitive sport is that playing as part of a team is a great thing for the young of this country to take part in.

We cannot look at grass-roots sport without also looking at major sporting events. It would be difficult for one to exist without the other. Major events rely on the grass roots to buy tickets, shirts, scarves and other goods; and to watch pay-to-view terrestrial or satellite television. The grass roots also rely on funding gained from these major events. This is particularly poignant at the moment when we look at the enormous sums of money that have been mentioned in some sports, such as salaries and transfer fees. Money can trickle down to grass-roots events. The holy grail, though, is the sporting legacy from these major events. This is also the basis on which competing nations have won the right to hold events such as a world cup, championship or the Olympic Games. This is an area that appears to be difficult to achieve; therefore co-oordination from the European Union can possibly help to extend this sporting legacy further.

A study from the University of Kent was highlighted in the Guardian about six months ago. It looked at the sporting legacy from the Greek Games held in 2004. It found that there was a short-lived boost in sporting activity of 6 per cent in 2003-04. Five years later this dropped by 13 per cent. What made this more depressing was that over the same time Greece won the European football championship, so there was a big push on sport in that country. The legacy is not there now. The data and the study show that a broader strategy on active lifestyles must be implemented when these major events take place. I hope that the European Union will help to put that in place. This of course can be implemented on a pan-European basis.

Two countries with a sporting heritage, admittedly outside the European Union, are Australia and New Zealand. Australia held the Sydney Olympic Games, which were another successful major event. Once again, no noticeable legacy was found. More recently, we have had the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. We have yet to see what the sporting legacy will be from that, but in a country of 4 million, with every one of them wearing an All Black shirt, there were 120,000 visitors to the country and 1 million tickets were sold.

When the Rugby World Cup comes to England in 2015, I understand that we aim to sell 3 million tickets. Let us hope that it will produce a pan-European sporting legacy and stretch even further and be long-lasting. By then, I hope, a number of European countries will play in that World Cup.

So now we look to 2012 and how the sporting legacy will be achieved. We have the capital projects, the creation and improvement of stadia that will be used for the event, and the upgrading of thousands of local sports clubs and facilities. We should also not forget the protection and improving of sports fields across the country. These will have a long-lasting use after the event has ended, but we must ensure the legacy also brings more people to take part in sport.

The European Union has the opportunity to co-ordinate and to oversee progress. However, I make a sincere plea, along with the noble Baroness, not to overregulate areas where it is not required. This is so important. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, the European Union Committee and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, are to be warmly congratulated on producing this excellent report. Not only does it inform and update us on the role of sport in the EU, but it points the way to the future, where grass-roots sport can take its place at the centre of people’s lives.

It is a particular pleasure for me to talk about sport in such a context. In the 1990s, when I was a Member of the European Parliament, I wrote and spoke constantly of the need to reflect the importance of sport in member states, and urged the Commission to provide legislation to reflect that. I was secretary and, later, president of the European all-party committee on sport, which undertook numerous reports and hearings that provided an opportunity for important debates. None was more so than when a Belgian footballer made his way to my office in Brussels to explain his predicament and his dispute with the football club for which he played. I almost said “which owned him”, since that was the nub of the case.

Little did I realise at that first meeting that the Bosman case, as it became known, would have such a fundamental effect, not only on football but on all professional sport. It changed for ever the rights and entitlements of individual players. I well remember telling the player that his case, within the existing legislation of the single market, was strong. I urged him to take it forward; he did and the rest is sporting history. Despite this and other controversial cases, the Commission refused to incorporate sport into EU legislation. Therefore, its inclusion in the most recent treaty—the Lisbon treaty—is welcome, if long overdue; sport is now recognised.

As with many good ideas, timing is everything. With economic chaos across Europe, the likelihood of generous funding—a strong, separate budget line—would appear to be a forlorn hope. What is to be achieved in the current situation? The report gives us good pointers. It reminds us of the scope of sport within society, notably in health, social and educational spheres. It highlights the role of volunteering, which is so crucial to both professional and amateur sport, and asks for recognition of this. Here in the UK we are focusing on volunteering in the build-up to the 2012 Olympics. Thousands of people have already signed up, with many more to follow.

By taking evidence from a wide range of sources, the EU Committee provides us with an excellent overview of where we are now and where we can be in the future. Not only does it look at the implications of the single market, it focuses strongly on intellectual property rights—all of which is aimed at protecting sport from negative factors and promoting good practice. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, the failure to take sport into account in the formation of legislation has caused significant problems.

What, in reality, can we hope for in the future? The Commission is now a paid-up member of the sports lobby, promising to include sport in all future policy areas and quite rightly granting it its proper status. The benefits for member states are highlighted in the EU work plan for sport. With better EU data collection, member states will be able to measure themselves against others. There are huge discrepancies, so the comparative performance data will enable member states to learn from each other, stimulating Governments to match up, either through better funding or better structures. No sporting body ever wants to be at the bottom of the league table.

The breadth and sources of submissions to the EU Committee are impressive. The Sport and Recreation Alliance made a strong case for the benefits of participation and the active notion of sport for all ages and standards, which is of course the hallmark of grass-roots sport. It also reminded us that sport and physical activity have a positive impact on educational attainment—a fact which sadly seems to have eluded Mr Gove with his dispiriting educational proposals. The point was strongly made that sport must be mainstreamed in structural funds if disadvantaged and unrepresented groups are to be helped.

Sport England highlighted a number of concerns, not least the sadly small number of women participating in sport compared to the number of men. Oh, for some form of Title IX across Europe—the USA really did get that right in the 1980s and Europe should be encouraged to follow suit.

My suggestion for enhancing sport in an economic downturn is based on co-operation. My inspiration comes from comedian and writer Tony Hawks, a committed and, indeed, good tennis player, who for the past seven years has founded and promoted Tennis For Free. For most of that time I have encouraged and supported him and lobbied for him with the LTA and with governments, until recently with scant success. His formula is simple. A charity, Tennis For Free, uses his local park courts at the Joseph Hood Recreation Ground in Merton, for a weekly free coaching programme on Saturday mornings. It is amazing. The courts, though pretty rundown, are packed, with mums, dads and kids all being coached, provided with racquets and balls and coming back week after week. It is all made possible by the far-sighted Merton Council, which has decided that the court should be free all week and the pay-and-play charges have been removed.

Now Tony has moved further. Councils up and down the country—most of them cash-strapped—have signed up for a similar package. There is no requirement for expensive upgrading of courts for Tennis For Free; as long as the courts are deemed to be safe, they are deemed to be playable. Some 80 councils have now signed up to that project; it is truly amazing. At last—at very last—Sport England has come online, recognising that this is a unique way to foster grass-roots tennis. It is funding eight new centres so that the basic cost for coaches, racquets and balls can now be met.

This I believe is a formula that could work for most sports: a charity employing coaches, a local authority giving its facilities free of charge and seed-corn funding from the Sports Council. It is a formula that could be used across all member states.

I thank the European Union Committee for opening up this debate and I thank all who contributed to the report. Let it be the first of many.

My Lords, on 22 November I shall be taking over as chair of the Volunteering Development Council, following in the footsteps of my noble friend Lady Hanham. It is a great honour to have been asked to chair the council, because it represents the opinions and interests of the millions of people throughout this country who contribute to the daily life of our nation by volunteering. I would like to use today’s debate as an opportunity to say a few words about the relationship between the EU and grass-roots sports and volunteering.

First, may I place on record my appreciation of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her chairmanship of EU Sub-Committee G. She combines incisiveness and understanding of whatever subject is in hand with great good humour and a collegiate approach, and it is genuinely a pleasure to serve on the sub-committee. We are also, as ever, served very well by the staff of this House and in the case of this inquiry by the specialist adviser, Professor Richard Parrish.

Our report highlights the importance of volunteers in sporting activity and notes that, for example, the average football club will involve some 21 volunteers. Indeed, the Football Association estimates that there are more than 400,000 volunteers involved in footballing activities alone.

Why do they do this? For some, it is the love of a particular sport that stays with them throughout their lives. For others, it is drawn from a commitment to their local area and the role sport can play in cementing that sense of local community. My home town of Needham Market has a thriving and very successful football club that was first established in 1919. It has a number of teams and a record of success that is the envy of far larger towns. Over the 30 years that I have lived in Needham Market, I have seen hundreds of young people commit their time and energy to the club. There are currently some 130 young people active in football in the town, which has a population of only 4,500.

Other people become drawn to volunteering in sporting activities because of the many benefits that sport can bring to people who are disadvantaged in some way. We had powerful evidence from Street Games and the Prince’s Trust, among others, about the role that sport can play, not just in providing meaningful activity but in teaching leadership skills and providing a route to recognised qualifications. The RNIB, for example, explained how physical activity can improve balance, mobility and co-ordination for those with a visual impairment, and locally I have seen how the bowls club often brings great social as well as health benefits to older people.

All these activities depend on volunteers, and one of the great things is that much of the interaction goes across the generations in a way that few other activities do. Volunteering of any kind is and should remain essentially a local activity with support from local councils and national Governments. The European Union-level dimension to grass-roots sport and volunteering is hard to establish at first sight. Indeed, a very recent communication from the Commission spoke about having a legal framework for volunteering. Even as a Europhile, I would need some convincing of the need for that.

However, as our inquiry went on, it became clear to me that there is a role for the EU in grass-roots sport, although it is limited. First, many witnesses highlighted regulatory burdens as one of the great barriers to volunteering. The experience of the English Federation of Disability Sport was that,

“even small increases in administrative burdens can have a devastating effect on a club’s ability to recruit and retain volunteers”.

While I accept that it is often difficult to sort out the truth from myth about EU regulation, I would support the Sport and Recreation Alliance in its call for a review of EU regulation as it impacts on volunteers. A number of witnesses told us that both sport and volunteering are vulnerable to the law of unintended consequences as a result of EU legislation in other areas. The Sport and Recreation Alliance told us how regulations about working at height and on the use of open water had had serious adverse impacts on climbing and water sports. With the coalition Government committed to reviewing domestic regulatory burdens, perhaps it would be a good idea, before we end the EU Year of Volunteering, to begin to carry out a parallel exercise in EU law.

In an ideal world, impacts on volunteers would be considered pre-legislatively, rather than afterwards. Our evidence suggests that despite the coming into force of Article 165 of the Lisbon treaty, which, as we have heard, has given the EU a legal competence in sport, the procedures within the Commission are not giving sufficient weight to the opinions of the sport unit when looking at how other policy decisions might impact. There are certainly many formal channels for dialogue between policy-makers and sporting organisations, but our evidence suggests that these are dominated by elite sport and big money, especially in football. An MEP who is an expert in this field highlighted the lack of a real grass-roots voice in EU policy-making in sport.

We definitely detected among our witnesses a real appetite for the strengthening of pan-European networks between grass-roots organisations, especially for using the benefits of modern technology in the exchange of best practice. I note that the Minister was reticent about this, but both Street Games and the Football Foundation pointed to the success of their websites’ pages that detail case studies, briefing papers and best practice.

Marginalisation of grass-roots sports organisations extends to the funding programmes. The chief executive of Street Games told us that the application procedures are simply too complex and bureaucratic for small organisations. At this morning’s sub-committee meeting, we looked at a mid-term evaluation of the Europe for Citizens programme, and it is shown that of the €215 million budget for its projects only €1.16 million has come to the UK. This is a significant under- representation in a programme that ought to be of great interest to the UK, and which includes sport.

Although it is tempting just to blame the bureaucracy, the fact that other countries are finding a way to get through the bureaucracy suggests that we have a particular issue. I certainly undertake to work with the current Government, if they wish, and with the volunteer sector to find out exactly why we are so poor at accessing this money. I look forward to the Minister's response.

My Lords, I very much welcome the debate today, and I start by declaring my interests in sport, which are many. I am a board member of the London Marathon and UK Athletics, a trustee of the Sport for Good Foundation, which is part of the Laureus World Sport Academy, and an ambassador for International Inspiration. I sit on several committees of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, and I am chair of the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation’s Commission into the Future of Women’s Sport. We are investigating areas such as commercialisation, investment, leadership and profile, which all have a massive impact at every level, and ultimately affect how sport and physical activity is run in the UK.

This is a very positive and important report and it makes a lot of sense about the power of sport. As others in your Lordships’ House have already said, sport teaches young people about rules, life skills, discipline, and working as a team—all things which are important in society. I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on the report, because it strongly highlights that those who currently do the least have the most to gain. That is very simple, but oh so important.

In a visit to Rwanda with the Sport for Good Foundation, a couple of years ago, I saw at a very practical level how sport was being used to bring together and provide support for those who had been affected by the genocide. I have been fortunate enough to make visits with both the Sport for Good Foundation and International Inspiration to see that in other parts of the world.

I very much like chapter 2, which is summarised in paragraph 27, where reference is made to the groups who can benefit, which include women, an area of particular interest to me. I also very much welcome the highlighting of those areas and the positive response of the Minister for Sport and the Olympics in the other place, Mr Hugh Robertson.

It is important that more support is given to those groups and organisations that promote the inclusion of underrepresented groups. I emphasise that work is needed not only across Europe; there is a still a lot to be done in the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, mentioned the lack of participation among women. It is important to emphasise not just that women participate in sport much less than men, but that, in the UK, 80 per cent of women and girls do not do enough physical exercise to benefit their health. That has major long-term implications for the health of our nation.

From recent research from the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport, published last week, we also know that the amount of money that goes into men’s and women’s sport varies considerably. That impacts on participation and the interest in sport for women. If we look at the commercialisation of sport, 39 per cent of money goes into mixed sport, which include sports such as tennis and golf, which are relatively equitable, but also rugby and football, which are not. An average contract for a woman who plays football for England is £16,000 a year, plus a club contract of around £20,000 to £30,000.

If we look at where the rest of the money goes, we see that 60.5 per cent of it goes into men’s sport. That leaves a scant 0.5 per cent for women. That figure will be pushed up by the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year to around 1.5 per cent but is likely to drop afterwards, and is still shocking. We are therefore stuck in a closed circle. With fewer women participating now, there is less interest in the commercial side of sport, and therefore less media interest. In an average year, only 2 per cent of media coverage is devoted to women in sport. In the UK, we need to break this cycle if we are to change the pattern.

If we see more women doing sport on TV, that encourages more women to do it. The myth that people do not want to watch women play sport is simply not true. People who like sport want to watch women play sport. In the last women’s World Cup semi-final, 1.6m people watched England play France.

What about some solutions for the UK? What I believe is needed is for the sports sector to take a radically different approach from that it is used to. Rather than just opening the doors and expecting a different mix of people to come through, sport needs to adopt basic business techniques of identifying a target market, developing an understanding of what that market wants, and then delivering sport to meet the needs and preferences of that market.

There are a few good examples. England Netball’s Back to Netball campaign has allowed thousands of women to play regular netball without having to join a club or pay an annual membership fee. Other national governing bodies are also trying. It would help considerably to keep up the pressure on national governing bodies that take public money but fail to succeed in increasing participation among underrepresented groups. I ask the Minister for continued support in this.

Many national governing bodies could benefit from looking at how private sector providers, such as military fitness or Zumba classes, develop markets and deliver their offers. There is definitely more to be done in schools, too, and the latest research from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation shows that girls leave school half as likely to meet recommended activity levels as boys. The introduction of the School Games and the current review of the PE curriculum provide a good opportunity for schools to redefine and redesign competitive sport so that it encourages all pupils to be active regularly, rather than just those who make the first team.

Paragraph 42 talks of the need to share best practice across Europe. I should like to suggest that British national governing bodies look at how the commercial sector operates in order to make real improvements. I also suggest that they use their own networks across the European international federations to share this best practice.

Paragraph 48 of the report identifies the need for more wide-scale research into the societal and personal benefits of sport. This is very important, and further work must be done—not because we are unsure whether sport for women has a value but because, as a sector, we need to be much better at turning anecdotal evidence into hard facts which will convince potential funders of the value of sport. I suppose that the flip-side is that we spend too much on research and monitoring, and then the amount of cash available for the delivery of projects diminishes, but there is a balance to be struck.

Box 4 on page 24 of the report highlights the case study of the Women’s International Leadership Development Programme and the links that this can provide to the wider gender and diversity equality movement. It is useful in ensuring that British national governing bodies have the chance to consider the opportunity that having a more diverse leadership would offer them.

Again, figures from the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport show that only 20 of the national governing bodies’ board members are female and that eight national governing bodies, including the Football Association, have no women on their boards at all. The lack of diversity on the boards of national governing bodies is perhaps the biggest single factor that stops these NGBs achieving their potential in terms of participation growth and elite success. Such a change is completely within their own grasp.

Finally, I realise that what I have said may be seen as all doom and gloom, but there is some exciting work going on and we have a chance to really make a change. Rather, the areas that I have covered should be seen as an opportunity to do things differently and to do them better. We owe that to the young women and girls in our society. This report makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the wider context.

My Lords, I am pleased to participate in this short debate and I congratulate the committee on its report. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, for introducing this discussion.

Three or four themes have come out of the contributions. Clearly, health and the role that sport plays in improving not only the nation’s health but individual health, particularly in the context of diabetes, is an important point. Another is the requirement on all of us to think again about how sport can help with social inclusion and other areas by reaching out to groups that are currently under-represented, making their lives more meaningful and helping them to engage and participate.

Despite the fact that we are living in difficult economic times, there are still some practical steps that can be taken, and there were some very good and interesting examples from my noble friend Lady Billingham, as well as from the volunteering sector. I hope that the Government will take up the offer of further discussion to see in what ways we can build up from the real grass roots and get rid of some of the problems caused by regulatory and other areas.

The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, as usual, made some very important and telling points from her good and significant experience in this area. The phrase that she left us with was, “Those who do least have most to gain”, which is something on which we should all reflect. She pointed out the incredible disparities that exist in the contributions made by government and other sources to the male and female sides of the sport. The fact that 80 per cent of us do not take enough exercise somehow summed up the points that others made in the debate.

Like my noble friend Lady Billingham, I should like to make a few general points, particularly with reference to grass-roots sport, and to draw attention to how things stood when we left office. I do so not for a party-political reason but because I think that it provides a good baseline for assessing how we respond to this debate. The report and the comments that we have heard reflect the fact that work done in the UK in recent years is well regarded across Europe. In truth, our model for sport is admired across the world.

During our time in government, we increased participation in both activities and competitive sport. We did this through three tiers: the Youth Sport Trust, dealing with school sport; Sport England, working at a community level with sport governing bodies, and UK Sport, financing the elite who are moving towards gold medal standard at the highest level. This model, in its totality, moved us from tenth in the world in 2004 to fourth place in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, behind China, the USA and Russia. That was an amazing achievement for what is really a very small country. Our target is to do at least as well in London in 2012.

Given that, it is somewhat odd to read in the Secretary of State’s recent blog:

“I can sum up our sports policy in three words: more competitive sport”.

If that is the case, why was a cut of £162 million for School Sports Partnerships announced without consultation in October 2010? If this is indeed the sports policy of the Government, why is there still no long-term strategy for increasing competitive sport in schools? We understand that DfE funding of £32.5 million is planned to stop after 2013 and there will be no more beyond that. The contributions of £11 million each from DCMS and the Department of Health stop after 2015. Sport England’s lottery funding, which is £4 million until 2015, stops after that. A further £72 million has been cut from Whole Sport Plans. There is no long-term certainty and there does not appear to be a strategy. I would be interested to get the Minister’s response to this.

It is worth putting on record that in 2006-7, 35 per cent of pupils in years 1 to 11 took part in inter-school competitive activities. By 2010, this figure had risen to 49 per cent. In 2006-7, 58 per cent of pupils in years 1-11 took part in intra-school competitive activities, and by 2010 this had risen to 78 per cent. In these competitions, 77 per cent of girls and 79 per cent of boys participated. That was a pretty good record, and should be the standard against which we judge what is going forward.

I would like to highlight three of the recommendations in the report, some of which were brought out by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. To recommendations 120 and 121, the response from the Minister for Sport and the Olympics was:

“Domestically, increased participation in sport is a key priority for all the Government across the UK both in terms of health and social outcomes, and specifically in answering London 2012’s Singapore promise to inspire a new generation to play sport”.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, in response to a Written Question from the Shadow Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Mr Clive Efford, Mr Hugh Robertson said earlier this week:

“We are determined to get more people playing sport as a legacy from London 2012 and we will continue to hold national governing bodies to account for the delivery of their whole sport plans. I am confident that with the inspiration of the games in 2012, and a new approach with a clearer expectation of concrete results in return for Government investment, we will see the benefit at grassroots level”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/11/11; col. 91W.]

Determination is good, but as for the rest, they seem to be relying on something turning up. I do not think that is good enough. As we heard today, notably from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, there are some very good and persuasive reasons for believing that sport is a really good way of bringing the benefits to disadvantaged groups I was talking about earlier. It is to be hoped, therefore, that there is something to back up the aspirations of Ministers. Can the Minister help us out here? Can she provide some details to flesh out Mr Robertson’s confidence about concrete results? Indeed, what are the Government’s targets now in this area?

In response to recommendations 122 to 124, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics says:

“Despite its importance, all too often sport has suffered unintentionally due to policies in other areas”.

Can the Minister give us some examples of this and tell us what the Government are going to do to remedy this situation?

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics goes on:

“There is already good cross-departmental work taking place—for instance, with the DH and DfE in relation to grass roots participation”.

Again, can the Minister help us on this? What good work is going on and what are the expected outcomes?

Finally, in relation to recommendation 126, there is a great deal in the report about the potential of sport in delivering social objectives, much of which has been touched on already. In his response, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics gives some interesting comments about the relationship between sport and social returns. He says that young people who do sports at school benefit from wider academic achievement, compared to similar young people who do not. There is also a suggestion that taking part in sport can result in tangible savings to the economy. He says:

“Regularly playing badminton can save around £11,000 per person in their lifetime, comprised of savings to the health system and the value of increases in their quality of life”.

Is this plan B? Is this the way in which the Chancellor is going to revivify the country’s economic situation? If so, how may badminton courts will be required to be plastered across England, Wales and Scotland in order to achieve that?

To be serious though, will the Minister point out what research is being commissioned by Her Majesty’s Government on this topic, as the way in which sport enhances social achievement and reduces cost is at the heart of a lot of what we have been saying this afternoon?

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to an initial scepticism in the committee when it started its work, yet she also drew attention to the fact that this changed during the process of its deliberations. Reading the report and listening to the debate today should have convinced even the most hardened sceptic that this new competence is a useful part of the EU framework, and we support that. Lest your Lordships have any doubt at all, I would like to share with you an e-mail that pinged into my inbox as I was finishing off my notes for today. It came from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and was advertising an event that is taking place shortly. I was invited by the CPA to,

“score a goal for development by participating in its parliamentary penalty shoot-out for the Millennium Development Goals”—

which I am sure we will all be rushing out to do—

“taking place on Speaker’s Green”—

if I can continue my small advertisement for it—

“on the afternoon of Wednesday 23 November”.

See you there. The e-mail continues:

“With sport increasingly recognised as a viable and practical tool to assist in the development process, international and premiership footballers with an involvement in development initiatives will attend the event. You will have a chance to drop in over the course of the afternoon to test your skills against the professionals and discuss the contribution that sport can make in promoting global solidarity and development”.

I rest my case. That shows that the idea that sport is somehow a part, and not a separate aspect, of the work that we all want to do to improve society has reached the CPA and become part of the common discourse. In that sense, it reflects what is said in the report.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, for leading this afternoon’s debate on grass-roots sport and the European Union. We are grateful to her and her committee members for launching the initial inquiry that led to their report, published in April this year. The debate is particularly timely as we approach next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.

We all know that sport is firmly ingrained in British life. People of all ages, abilities and backgrounds from across the country take part regularly. That participation comes in a variety of ways: there are those who are active sportsmen and women; those who give their time voluntarily to support sporting activities; and the many millions who just enjoy watching sport. However, as we have heard today, compared to the significant amount of media coverage that professional sport generates daily, grass-roots sport often remains in the shadows. As the committee’s report recognises, grass-roots sport makes an important contribution to British society, but we are also looking at the role that the EU has to play.

As we have heard, sport became an EU competence with the ratification of the Lisbon treaty two years ago. Since that landmark moment, the European Commission’s work has progressed and, throughout this time, the United Kingdom has continued to be fully engaged, ensuring that the UK’s voice is clearly heard in Brussels and beyond. We want our relationship with the EU to be about maximising benefit for the UK as we work with our EU partners. We make no apology for that. Where there are changes that can add genuine value, or which will help our sports do even better, then we will willingly support them. However, where there is duplication, unnecessary regulation or overspending, then our job is clearly to say so and to negotiate in the best way to protect our interests. We have heard from my noble friends Lord Courtown and Lady Scott and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, of the difficulties posed by overregulation in trying to encourage grass-roots sports.

The Government presented their response to the committee’s report in June, setting out their position. As we have heard, we welcomed and supported a number of the report’s recommendations. I shall comment on some of the developments that have taken place so far. The European Commission’s first sports policy document since the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, Developing the European Dimension in Sport, set out the Commission’s work plan for sport through to 2015, listing actions for both the Commission and member states. The European Council of Ministers subsequently adopted a resolution on the associated European Union Work Plan for Sport, 2011 to 2014, in May this year. It was intriguing to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, of the work that she had been involved with as an MEP in the 1990s, urging the Commission then to support sport. Some things take rather a long time to come to fruition, but we seem to have made progress since those days.

We fully recognise the importance the committee placed in its report on ensuring that sport is mainstreamed effectively both at the European Union level and at the national level. Despite its importance, sport has from time to time suffered unintentionally due to policies in other areas. We are encouraged that, at the European level, following strong UK interventions, the work plan now makes explicit reference—as we have heard—to the need to take sport into account when formulating, implementing and evaluating policies and actions in other policy fields, with particular attention to ensuring early and effective inclusion in the policy development process. Ministers and officials will continue to use each appropriate opportunity to ensure that this commitment is fulfilled across government departments.

Participation in grass-roots sport is a high priority for the Government, particularly as we look to leave a wide-ranging sports legacy from London’s hosting of the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year and from Glasgow’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2014, as well as from the various other major sporting events in the UK in the coming years. We are therefore pleased to see that participation is one of the key priorities in the communication.

As we said in the Government’s response to the committee’s report, we are encouraged that one of the new expert groups set up under the work plan is focused on sport, health and participation and will be charged with producing recommendations on promoting physical activity and participation in sport. The UK is already playing a key role in this expert group, having put forward two expert representatives from Sport England and sportscotland as members. A number of noble Lords stressed health in their speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, my noble friend Lord Courtown and a number of other contributors all stressed the part that sport can play in having a healthy community.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, my noble friend Lord Courtown, the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, and others challenged the Government as to what we are doing to increase participation at a national level. In England, last November the Government launched Places People Play, which is a £135 million mass participation legacy programme. In the past six months, under the places strand, we have launched the £50 million Inspired Facilities fund and the £10 million Playing Fields Protection fund, which acknowledge the importance of having the right facilities in place to support grass-roots sports participation.

In this the EU Year of Volunteering, my noble friend Lady Scott and the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, drew attention to the important contribution of volunteers to grass-roots sporting activities. As an example, for the 70,000 places available for the London 2012 Games makers, we received around 250,000 applications. Under the people strand, the £4 million Sport Makers programme launched last month will capitalise on this by training the next generation of sports volunteers to organise and lead grass-roots sporting activities, creating sporting opportunities to give everyone the chance to take part. The enormous number of volunteers for those posts is an indication of just how enthusiastic the British population are about volunteering to contribute to sport.

The committee’s report recommended a focus on groups whose participation rates are lowest. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, said that we need to concentrate more on particular groups in society. To give one example of action being taken in this area, £8 million is being ring-fenced to support a legacy to inspire disabled people to take part in sport. This is currently under development. Disability groups are being consulted and the programme is due to launch in the new year.

In addition, the English Federation of Disability Sport has been awarded £1.5 million in Exchequer funding to accelerate its strategy to work with national governing bodies to make grass-roots sports more inclusive. For the first time, Sport England is making funding available specifically to create opportunities and accessibility. We are committed to securing a lasting legacy from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. We aim to drive forward wider attitudinal change towards disability sport, for example; and, through the School Games, to provide increased opportunities for all pupils—boys and girls, from all backgrounds and of all abilities—to compete at local, regional and national level. While we have been concentrating on the young in a lot of these debates, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, highlighted all ages and the importance also of making sport accessible for older people, and the ways in which that can contribute to their quality of life in later years, as well as in younger years.

The UK has played, and will be, playing an active role in each of the six EU expert groups on sport, through putting forward strong sectoral expert representatives. As evidence of that, the UK has secured the chairmanship of three of the expert groups—those on education and training, good governance and sustainable financing.

The UK has a good story to tell on good governance, an issue mentioned, I think, by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The current Polish presidency is also putting forward Council conclusions on match-fixing; again, trying to tackle aspects of sport that go wrong. The draft text of that is being discussed at official level, and the UK is working to ensure that the proposals are not watered down and are as strong as possible, and that there is real integrity in sport.

One of the concerns raised by the committee was that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were seen to be excluded in EU sports policy discussions. Ministers and officials have been proactive in consulting their counterparts in the devolved Administrations on EU sports policy matters. In addition to sportscotland providing one of the UK experts on the sport, health and participation expert group, the Scottish Sports Minister will, for the first time, be joining the UK delegation later this month to attend the European Council of Sports Ministers meeting. However, I should stress that it is the responsibility of our devolved Administration colleagues to cascade any information from the UK Government to their own relevant stakeholders, such as their respective sports councils.

The UK has many examples of the positive nature of grass-roots sport participation and will share these with our EU colleagues. For instance, this summer, we hosted a delegation of MEPs from the European Parliament’s culture committee. They visited a tennis project in Haringey that has completely revitalised the local community and heard from Tottenham Hotspur Football Club’s foundation about the positive work it is carrying out in the area, including the Premier League’s Kickz programme. The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, has told us about the Tennis For Free programme, and there are other examples of this happening throughout the country.

The UK also recently hosted the European Women and Sport Conference. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, commented on the lack of women on sporting boards and generally participating, and the disparities in funding for women’s sport as against men’s. I am quite sure that the lack of women on sporting boards will be something that my honourable friend Lynne Featherstone, the Minister for Equalities, will be looking at to try and ensure that sport does not suffer from the lack of women in those positions of responsibility.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned the structural funds. The decision on whether to fund a sports programme is part of the wider discussions of the future EU budget, the multiannual financial framework, which will of course include the structural funds. Discussions have taken place in friends of presidency meetings, but I believe that so far they have centred on technical clarifications. However, discussions on the EU budget, the structural funds and a future sport programme are of course linked, and the Government will be making the case for sport whenever opportunities present themselves in negotiations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and my noble friend Lady Scott mentioned the importance of Street Games. Obviously we recognise that Street Games can play a vital part in fragmented communities and in other communities, and can give examples of participation, of teamwork and of reaching across boundaries to a whole range of young people in those communities. My noble friend Lady Scott asked whether there would in some way, through the volunteer section, be a route to recognised qualifications through sport. We will be looking at that to see that people have recognition for their achievement in a formal way as far as that is possible. My noble friend also mentioned the fact that the UK is not applying for EU funding streams to look at volunteering. The Government would very warmly welcome her offer to look more closely at ways in which the UK can take advantage of the available funding streams. We heard from my noble friend Lord Courtown on the sums of money at the top of professional sport and the disparity between the vast sums that professional sportspeople seem to have at their disposal and the grass-roots fund, which is constantly looking for fairly modest sums of money. That is something the sporting community is looking at and will take forward.

I have touched on the issue of diversity on boards. On the participation of schools, there will be an increased focus on competition as part of the curriculum review. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has obviously been looking at the Secretary of State’s blogs. On the importance that he puts on competitive sport, we will find that there is cross-departmental work going on between the DfE, the DCMS and the Department of Health to try to ensure that those departments work together to encourage more sport in schools and to see that funding is made available through the different streams that are around at the moment for that purpose.

I may have missed some of the points that noble Lords have made. If so, I will write to them afterwards. To sum up, we are still in the early days of the development of the EU sports policy, but the direction of travel so far has been encouraging. The UK has uniquely positioned itself to be as influential as it can, both in our own interests and those of EU sport, through sports bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will continue to be fully engaged in developments and take advantage of opportunities for the UK within an EU context. Once again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and her committee for taking a proactive interest in this area and for producing such a valuable and wide-ranging report and recommendation. Indeed, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to today’s debate as we embark on a high-profile time for sport in the UK. We can see from this report and the debate that the United Kingdom is well placed to make the most of the new EU sport competence.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in today’s debate. It has been most stimulating. It is particularly gratifying to hear some sort of endorsement for our report from those who have been participating in sport at a very high level indeed. I am particularly pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, and my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson were able to participate this afternoon. I am also grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, who, as a new member of the committee, made a very important contribution, I think, when he raised the issue of obesity and the potential for sport to be used to address that, among other things. He also pointed out the difficulty of ensuring that that legacy actually happens and gave us some examples.

Going back to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, I think she pointed out some of the challenges in thinking about a new area of competence in the current economic situation. It was also very useful to hear about Tennis For Free. It exemplifies the kind of work that can be carried out quite effectively with little or no money to push that kind of initiative through a whole range of different sports activities; and I know that there are other initiatives like that going on.

I am not sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, is aware that Street Games is an organisation. It visited the committee as part of its submission to the inquiry. It was notable that it brought along two volunteers who had formerly been involved, shall we say, in local activities that were not steering them in quite the right direction and who had ended up working with Street Games to great effect with their peers. They also gave evidence to the committee.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, a dedicated member of Sub-Committee G, who focused on volunteers. As we all know, they are the absolute bedrock of grass-roots sport, as they are in other areas of activity in this country. She emphasised the regulatory burden particularly on smaller groups and the lack of representation, a point to which virtually all noble Lords referred.

My noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson raised the important issue of the participation of girls and young women in sport—perhaps I should say the lack of adequate participation. The lack of attention given to women’s sports was also raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, and I discussed that as we came over to the House today. If one looks at most newspapers and television, one would not even know that women play professional sport in this country. That matter needs to be addressed if we are serious about getting more girls and young women to participate in sport. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, recognised the potential of sport to do that and the way in which it can contribute to a wide spectrum of policy objectives, not only domestically but internationally.

I thank the Minister for reiterating the need to overcome regulation, among other things, and for her encouraging comment about continuing to push in negotiations around structural funds, the ESF and so on to embed sport in those discussions. There is a danger that either the area could be hived off into one corner with the thought, “Okay, we have dealt with sport now because we have put it in a kind of box and therefore we do not have to try to embed it elsewhere”, or it will become so thinly spread that people will not know where it is or what its specificity is. Somehow we will have to steer a course between those two extremes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson raised the issue of women on boards. It might be useful to look at other areas, such as the arts, where there have been quite a few initiatives that have had effective campaigns and mechanisms to broaden the membership of boards in the arts and the cultural sector.

In conclusion, I acknowledge absolutely the efforts of my fellow members of Sub-Committee G and I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his place. He was a member of the committee which carried out the inquiry, although he has now sadly left us for other pastures. There was much questioning and reflection, and a good deal of openness. As I said at the beginning, people were a little worried about where this might take us but in the end we were convinced of its worth.

I should also like to thank Professor Richard Parrish, who was our specialist adviser for the inquiry. I also want to record the contribution of clerks and special advisers, which we should never take for granted. I should like to acknowledge Talitha Rowland, who has moved on to other work within the House, and Alistair Dillon and I thank them for their work on the inquiry and the report.

This has been a particularly stimulating debate. We have covered a wide range of areas and issues in a relatively short time. I am very glad that we were able to have this debate on the Floor of the House. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.39 pm.