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Lords Chamber

Volume 739: debated on Thursday 18 October 2012

House of Lords

Thursday, 18 October 2012.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.



Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote the benefits of Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom.

My Lords, this Government firmly believe that Scotland is, and will always remain, better off within the United Kingdom. In June, the Secretary of State for Scotland announced a programme of cross-government work to inform and support the debate on Scotland’s future. This work will report from early 2013 and will produce detailed evidence and analysis to assess the benefits of Scotland remaining in the UK to both Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and welcome the content of his Answer. Does he agree that the campaign for remaining within the union, which the Labour Party supports fully, needs to be a positive case put to the Scottish people, emphasising the social and economic benefits of remaining within the United Kingdom, and not a negative case as that would be counterproductive? Will he accept my assurance that the Labour Party will stand four-square with all unionist parties in Scotland in this referendum campaign?

My Lords, those are very welcome words from the noble Lord, speaking on behalf of the Labour Party. I think it is well understood in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom that while political parties may have many differences on many different issues, we are completely united in our belief that the United Kingdom is the best way to preserve peace and prosperity for all the people of these islands. The noble Lord is also entirely correct when he says that this campaign needs to be a positive one. It should be. There is a very positive case for keeping the United Kingdom together in terms of our position in the world, the protection of our citizens and the economic benefits to all the people of the UK.

My Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, I have a deep concern about whether the Electoral Commission, which will play a big part in this forthcoming referendum, will be up to the job. Will the noble Lord ensure that the appropriate Ministers meet the Electoral Commission to ensure that it is capable of dealing with the problems that this referendum will throw up?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to voice his concern, but I am glad to say that the Electoral Commission has, over the past few years, learnt a lot from both running referendums and overseeing various elections. Both Governments—the UK Government here at Westminster and the Scottish Government—have agreed that the Electoral Commission should play its normal role, as for all other referendums. It is well understood by Ministers that this is a key referendum for the future of this country and it is important that we should get it right.

My Lords, is my noble friend the Leader of the House aware that, although there is very broad cross-party support for the campaign to maintain the United Kingdom—that very much includes the Liberal Democrats—there has been considerable concern about the role of the Electoral Commission and the question that will be put to the people of Scotland? For example, when the question that is currently supported by Alex Salmond and the SNP is tested by opinion poll, it generally gets a significant advantage—some are saying up to a 7% advantage—compared with a more neutral or balanced question. That is of concern to every one of us here. Will the UK Government make sure that the Electoral Commission plays a full and active role in ensuring that the referendum is not rigged or manipulated by the SNP and that the referendum question and all aspects of the running of the referendum are handled and set in a fair, open and transparent way that is published and understood not only by the people of Scotland but by those in the whole of the United Kingdom who have a deep interest in the outcome of this important vote?

I entirely agree with my noble friend. This is extremely well understood by politicians on both sides of the border. The Electoral Commission has an absolute mandate to do precisely as he suggested—to report and to lay that report in the Scottish Parliament, and of course it will be available here as well.

Does the noble Lord agree that independence is a moving feast, as reflected in the concern shown on all sides of the House about the question? I regard Scotland as an independent country at the moment but I am happy to renew my marriage vows with England. The key question is: does Scotland want to leave the UK? The matter must be closely focused on that single issue. Otherwise it will be lost in a mass of spin from Alex Salmond.

My Lords, we have up to two years of debate before we get to a referendum and I am sure that many people and organisations will make the point that the noble Lord has raised. Independence is not for Christmas; it is for life. Of course, the benefits of the United Kingdom need to be well understood before we get to a referendum.

My Lords, can my noble friend deal with the anxiety about the question? It is now going to be decided by the Scottish Parliament, which means Alex Salmond in consultation with the Electoral Commission. Would a way of ensuring that the referendum is fairly conducted be to say that the Section 30 order, which transfers the power to the Scottish Parliament, will not be brought before either House of Parliament until Alex Salmond has published his draft Bill setting out the question and the rules for the conduct of the referendum and the franchise?

My Lords, the Section 30 order will be published next week, and both Houses of Parliament will debate and, it is hoped, pass it in due course. I cannot see that there is any great advantage in seeing Mr Salmond’s Bill before we pass the Section 30 order. After all, it can be amended in the Scottish Parliament. However, we understand that we will get the publication of the Scottish Government’s consultation, which will include their view of what the question should be, and that should be available in the next few weeks.

I understand perfectly that this issue has to be handled sensitively without there appearing to be any attempts at bullying or cajoling the Scottish Parliament in deciding what to do. If the draft Section 30 order is published next week, it will be left entirely up to the Scottish Parliament to decide what to do. That is really going too far. Does the noble Lord agree that there ought to be a period of reflection before the Section 30 order is laid before us so that we have at least some idea of what the Scottish Parliament has in mind?

My Lords, there will be a period of reflection but it will not be very long because we want the Scottish Parliament to get on with it and to set the date and pass the necessary legislation so that we can clear the air in Scotland and get a decisive result at the referendum.

My Lords, the agreement says “intelligibility” when it comes to the question, and that begs a question in itself. Can we please make sure that the question is not merely intelligible but that it is not loaded and is entirely unbiased? I do not think that this House or any other should contemplate passing the order unless we are satisfied in that regard.

My Lords, that is precisely the role of the Electoral Commission—to look at the question, to test the various words in it and then to report to the Scottish Parliament as to its intelligibility.



Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, to coincide with Anti-Slavery Day, to raise awareness among relevant agencies and the general public of the possibility that individuals they encounter may be the subject of modern slavery.

My Lords, I am sure the House will be aware that today is Anti-Slavery Day, which is an important day. However, human trafficking is not just a one-day issue. As the activity of the interdepartmental ministerial group on human trafficking shows, the Government are not complacent, and cannot be in the light of today’s report. The Government are committed to tackling this issue on a continuing basis.

My Lords, I welcome the publication of the report, which shows that increasing numbers are being detected. That may of course be because increasing numbers are being reported. There is a widespread view among people that trafficking does not happen in their neighbourhood. What advice do the Government give if one suspects that a man working in a restaurant or a young woman working in a nail bar is the victim of trafficking?

They should report any suspicions of trafficking to the authorities: either the police or their own local authority. There is a lot of cross-agency working to tackle this issue. I think the noble Baroness is correct: this is an increasing problem and one that will need increasing effort to try to contain.

My Lords, 17,000 Royal Naval sailors died suppressing the slave trade. Indeed, in 1966, as a midshipman I was on a small coastal minesweeper that arrested a slaver. I am sure that the Minister would like to make sure that this fact is known globally as well as within certain parts of our own community. In celebrating Anti-Slavery Day, perhaps he would wish well the celebration this weekend of the 207th anniversary of Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson.

The noble Lord gives me a tall order but one on which I am happy to oblige. Of course, we celebrate Trafalgar and indeed Lord Nelson’s contribution to that victory. This country has been at the fore in seeking to tackle slavery, but our history has different shades on this issue. It is very important that we recognise it as a global problem today. That is why we are working abroad in India and the Asian sub-continent to help to make sure that modern slavery still does not happen in these times.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that in the negotiations on the repatriation of some elements of the European Union directives on joint home affairs and justice issues, our Parliament and our Government will give special consideration to making sure that all the orders affecting slavery or trafficking will be very carefully considered before they are repatriated? The straightforward reason is that all the evidence on trafficking is that it is Europe-wide, indeed worldwide, and is not restricted to this nation.

My noble friend is right to point out that this is a Europe-wide issue, which is why co-operation is directed Europe-wide. There is a directive to which we are fully signed up, and we will work together with our European colleagues to make sure that we tackle this crime, which is pan-European and in which this country has a vested interest in trying to repress.

Will the Minister accept that nearly 20 years ago, when I was a Member of the other place, I had a constituency case involving a young woman who had been brought into this country allegedly as a servant by a wealthy family? She had been kept for two years as a slave. I do not believe that it was an isolated incident. What measures do the Government take to ensure that families who bring servants into this country from overseas are treating them as employees and not as slaves?

I heard a voice say, “A good question”, and it is indeed a good question. It is an abuse that is a form of slavery, which this Government cannot tolerate. Let us be clear; this is not an easy area. Those involved in trafficking can be cunning and deceitful, and there is widespread use of false documents and fraudulent job offers. We need to be clever in the way in which we handle the issue, which is why we are using information and intelligence to catch these people and why cross-agency interaction is so important.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether his department has any intention of introducing independent monitoring to make sure that the cutting of red tape in small businesses and commercial organisations does not impact on the progress that we have made so far in cutting down trafficking and slavery?

I am the Minister in the Home Office responsible for the red tape challenge, so I will bear that point in mind. It is a challenge within the Home Office because, in essence, we are a regulatory department. We would want to do nothing that made the risk of human trafficking the greater.

In view of that context and the figures on trafficking for labour in the paper this morning, will the Minister please assure us that there will be no further restriction on the role or resources of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, and indeed that its scope will be improved by extending it into other sectors?

I do not know whether I can say that there will be no change to the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. The noble Lord will know that forestry workers have already been taken out of scope. Indeed, the reforms of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which fall more under my previous brief than the current one, pose a new challenge to the organisation to focus on areas with the greatest risks, and this is one of them.

Police: Strike Action


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decision by the Police Federation of England and Wales to ballot their members on whether the legal prohibition on police officers taking strike action should be repealed.

My Lords, the Home Secretary has been clear that police officers cannot strike, and that is not going to change. As a civil emergency service it is vital that the service is able to discharge its duty to protect the public and to keep the peace at times of serious national and local disorder.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, with which I agree. However, I am more concerned to know how we got to this place. I should point out to the House for the avoidance of doubt that this Question was laid down before the imbroglio concerning the Chief Whip in the other place came either to my notice or to public notice. My supplementary question is in three brief parts. First, in 93 years this is the first time that the Police Federation has balloted its members: does the noble Lord believe that that indicates a breakdown in trust between the Police Service of all ranks in England and Wales and the Government? Secondly, whether he believes that or not, does he accept, as I do, that a substantial number of police officers believe that there is a breakdown in trust? Thirdly, what are the Government going to do about it?

The Government do not underestimate the strength of feeling among officers at the moment. The Home Secretary and the policing Minister regularly meet with representatives of the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents’ Association and members of the Association of Chief Police Officers to discuss ways of tackling this issue. We are looking of ways in which we can ensure a greater input from officers of all ranks in policing matters. We will continue to engage with police officers and staff to ensure that their opinions help shape future policing policies.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that whatever the outcome of the ballot, it will be a fair and valid expression of the views of Police Federation members, and particularly so if the turnout is higher than in the forthcoming ballots for police and crime commissioners? Can he also give an assurance that any government response to the outcome of the likely Police Federation ballot will not be given by the Government Chief Whip in the House of Commons for fear that he uses the kind of language he normally reserves for addressing on-duty police officers?

I am sorry about and rather disappointed by that question. The relationship between government and police is clearly very important, and we are aware of the difficulties at this particular time. I think we all recognise that this is a period of change for the police. The Government want to engage in particular with the Police Federation, because it is holding the ballot, and with all sections of the police force to see a new era for policing that brings the police fully into the modern era.

My Lords, where there is an obligation on a service not to strike, is it not important to have respected mechanisms in place for fixing the terms of service for that particular service? Could the Minister direct attention to that aspect for the Police Federation to consider rather than striking? I think it would be much more constructive to look at whether better arrangements could be made for the adjustment of terms of service than perhaps exist at the present time.

Yes, there is a tribunal which considers these matters and, indeed, there are issues before it at the moment. I think that today is the first day on which it is taking evidence. There is a mechanism in place for resolving these issues, but there is also an argument which I think the Government should not be afraid of putting to the police force. The Tom Winsor proposals give the police an opportunity to improve their flexibility of working, for improving pay scales so that there is a better step up from constable to sergeant, and making sure in many ways that the pay structure for the police force, which was set up 30 years ago, is fit for purpose today.

My Lords, when the right to strike was removed in 1919, it followed large-scale disorder on the streets of the United Kingdom and by implication recognised the very special position that the police service was in. Does the Minister agree that the special case for the police—the X factor if you like—should always be borne in mind when the Home Secretary is deciding issues concerning the police?

My Lords, in view of the line unfortunately taken by the Front Bench opposite, would it not be a good idea if all parts of this House sent out a clear message that the inability of the police to strike, far from being an oddity compared with others, is an essential part of the relationship between the police of this country and the public? Is that not the essence of this matter, whatever the purpose of the ballot might be?

I thank my noble friend for a positive contribution which takes the debate forward. As I think I have expressed, the Government are anxious to make sure that the relationship is a good one. We are not alone in our relationship with special groups of people. The Prison Service and the armed services also have prohibitions on striking. We recognise the importance of our relationship with the police service.

I think that noble Lords will find that I have given a fair run around the House. It is fair to hear from my noble friend Lady Doocey.

My Lords, do the Government accept that when they reform provisions for long-term sickness, a distinction must be made for police officers who have been injured in the line of duty so that they are not unfairly penalised?

That extends the Question a little further than my brief. We recognise that the retirement age for the police will remain at 60, even under the renewed proposals; it will not be made the same as for others. Everybody realises that it is a stressful job that can involve physical hazards. I appreciate the supplementary question, but I am sorry that I cannot comment in detail on it.

Fire Services: Funding


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risks arising from proposals to reduce funding for fire services outside London.

My Lords, single-purpose fire and rescue authorities outside London have had a change in their revenue spending power of minus 2.2% in 2011-12 and minus 0.5% in 2012-13. Many fire and rescue authorities are making sensible savings without impacting on the quality or breadth of the services offered to their communities. It is for each fire and rescue authority to determine the operational activities of its service through its integrated risk management plan, which is subject to consultation with the local community.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Has she had a chance to study the letter sent to her by Members from all parts of your Lordships’ House, and also the letter sent to her department yesterday by the six chief fire officers of the metropolitan areas, in which they stated that current proposals would lead to the loss of 2,500 front-line firefighters and 100 fire engines, and to the closure of 60 stations? In an area such as Merseyside, this would lead to a 33% cut, when it has already made cuts of up to £20 million and lost 500 firefighters in recent years. Given the terrible tragedies that can be wreaked by fire, and the inherent risks to public safety that may ensue, would it not be sensible, before this becomes an issue of antagonism, public debate and concern, for the Government to commission an independent risk assessment so that we can be clear about the implications of these proposals?

My Lords, as I indicated, once the Government have made decisions on funding, it is up to each fire authority to deal with the standard of service that it provides. It is worth noting, thankfully, that the number of fires has gone down, largely due to the work carried out by fire authorities. Given that, the response need may be slightly different.

Would my noble friend be agreeable to meeting the Secretary of State in an all-party delegation on this matter? I ask because I do not believe that, following previous value-for-money changes in metropolitan fire services, the proposal before us is the right solution. We need to discuss it calmly and I hope that the Minister will persuade her Secretary of State to receive such a delegation.

My Lords, the noble Baroness will understand that I am perfectly prepared to pass on her request, but I know that the fire Minister is already in close discussions with the metropolitan fire and rescue services and is listening very carefully to what they are saying.

My Lords, I understood the Minister to say that London had been protected from the recent round of cuts over the past two years. I also understand that this was due to the Olympics. Will she confirm that there will now be fairness in the distribution of reductions in budgets, particularly in view of the fact that a number of senior firefighters believe that there is now a danger to the delivery of the national resilience policy because of the unevenness of the impact of the cuts across the country?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, there are different views about the impact of the reductions. Depending on where you are in the country, you may have a different view. The best thing that can happen—which is happening—is that the consultations should continue until decisions are made on the next spending allocations.

My Lords, does the Minister understand that little that she has said up to now today will strengthen the morale of authorities such as the Greater Manchester fire and rescue service, which serves courageously in very high-risk and deprived areas, is often under attack while on call and feels that it is being disproportionately hit by unfair cuts? Is not the fairest way a flat-rate cut for all fire authorities and not to allow 84.2% of the cuts to fall on the metropolitan authorities?

To answer the right reverend Prelate’s initial comments, of course we all recognise the very valuable service that the fire authorities carry out. I indicated earlier that I thought that the reduction in the number of fires is due to the expertise of the fire service, and it is to be greatly welcomed. I acknowledge that there are really bad exceptions to that and that the fire service then carries out a heroic and very valuable role. Local authorities, including fire and rescue authorities, were asked to respond to a consultation on how the baseline distribution should be set in 2013-14. I cannot pre-empt the future settlement position and, as I said earlier, there is not a settled view among firefighters on whether it should be based on a flat-rate cut or on other methods.

The Minister will be aware, because we have debated it extensively, that we are about to embark on a new business rate retention scheme as well as a poll tax mark 2. Is not the reality of the business rate scheme that it will further entrench the inequalities and inadequacies in funding and could do so for up to seven years if the Government have their way on how the system will work?

Yes, my Lords, the business rate retention scheme will have some effect on the fire and rescue authorities and their direct levers for growth. We have therefore proposed that single-purpose fire and rescue authorities should keep 2% of the local share of business rates.

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

Tabled By

That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 23 October to allow the Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.

My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

Tabled By

That the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Perry of Southwark set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of Baroness Hooper to two hours.

My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

Education: Development of Excellence

Motion to Take Note

Moved By

My Lords, it is a great privilege to open this debate on excellence in education, and I look forward with great pleasure to hearing the speeches from so many noble Lords today.

I know that all in this House share my passion for raising the standards in our schools so that every child can develop his or her own talents, and every Government have tried to achieve this goal. I pay tribute to the previous Government for having made education a priority during their time in office, and I acknowledge their heritage, not least in the creation of the best generation of young teachers that we have ever had and in the development of the early academies—just as, I hope, they are equally generous in acknowledging the heritage of their predecessors.

Today, I should like to address the measures which this coalition Government have put in place to achieve the elusive goals of every school a good school and an education system that allows Britain to win in the global race of the future. The themes of the Government’s actions in education, as in all aspects of policy, are a radical shift away from overweening state interference, a belief in the power of every individual to contribute to the public good, and a passion for excellence. For education, this means trust in the professionals in our schools and colleges, raising aspirations for all and thereby enabling achievement by the provision of structures within which students can aspire to succeed—and can compete for success in the fields where their talents lie.

I want to make clear that, for me, excellence is defined not just by academic attainment. There is far more to good education than exam results and far more to exam results than achievement in academic subjects alone. Vocational exams are every bit as valuable for those who choose that route; I will return to that issue later. Adult life, whether in employment, family life or friendships, asks of a social, emotional and spiritual richness. Good schools work to foster those skills, based on a strong framework of moral and ethical values that inform every aspect of the school’s life, both inside and outside the classroom.

Last week, I attended the opening of a new learning centre in a sixth-form college. I congratulated the young people and their principal on their new facility. Of course good buildings and equipment are aids to learning and it was good to see young people enjoying the fine facilities on offer, but excellence does not reside in those facilities alone. In every education debate that we have had in this Chamber over many years, there has been unanimous agreement that teachers are the one factor on which the quality of education rests. The question that this Government have addressed is what we can do to bear on the quality of teachers.

It is a source of sadness to me that the approach to improving achievement in recent times has been to regulate, dictate, control from the centre, inspect with the aim of finding fault, create league tables of examination results and punish where failure is discovered. This approach, although I am sure it is made with the best of intentions, simply has not worked. The message of this approach to schools and teachers is to work only to the regulator’s requirement, to seek the easiest way to achieve good grades in the league tables and to work with the children who will add to their league table scores while allowing the weaker students to be ignored and the brightest to go unstretched. While, happily, many schools refused to follow that route, the result has been to cause the biggest gap between the high-achieving pupils and schools and the lowest achievers that we have ever seen in our history.

The coalition Government have tackled this question by looking at what teachers—those key factors in quality—need from government to allow them to succeed. Overwhelmingly, the answer is that schools and teachers need freedom to exercise their professional competence and judgment. In short, they need trust. Some years ago, I attended an international conference about educational quality. Delegates from many countries whose international performance was in many cases far from outstanding enthusiastically told stories of curriculum change, investment in new buildings, legislation, regulation and so on. Finally, it came to the turn of the delegate from Finland, whose students score at the top of every international league table. “Well”, he said, “we do not have many of those things. You see, we just trust the teachers”. It was a lesson I never forgot.

We spend a great deal of money on educating the dedicated young men and women who choose to serve as teachers in our schools and colleges. Many of them are among the brightest and best of their generation. This Government have done absolutely the right thing in pursuing policies that trust them to perform at the highest level. Setting schools free through the academies programme has been an act of faith, trusting schools and teachers to make the right choices for the young people in their care. That faith has been fully justified. Not only do we have over 500 sponsored academies, with sponsorship from every kind of charitable and business organisation as well as from churches and religious bodies, but we now have almost 2,000 academies from schools that have converted. This is a massive endorsement of the programme from the wider community and from the profession itself.

Most important, though, is the level of achievement that these academies have given to the young people who attend them. Through strong leadership, gifted teaching and high standards of discipline, achievement has been raised far beyond expectation. Other speakers today will give examples of the amazing success of the schools that were failing their pupils in every way but were turned into high-scoring, high-achieving academies in the space of a very few years. These are stories of life-changing opportunities for young people, raising their aspirations, giving them both academic success and all the self-confidence that gives, and pride in their school uniform, respect for the rules of discipline and loyalty to their school and its values. These are priceless gifts indeed.

Another significant and exciting development has been the creation of free schools: schools set up by local communities and groups involving parents, business, universities and professionals that meet the needs and aspirations of a community for high-quality education. About 80 of those schools have opened in less than two years, with many others approved to open in the next year.

The key result of those reforms, the biggest and most radical for generations, is that the Government have put the professionals in the driving seat, allowing them freedom from government micromanagement, taking the punitive, fault-finding inspections off their backs and allowing them to respond to the needs and interests of the children in their care. Of course, their freedom is balanced by proper accountability. They are accountable to their governing bodies, their students and their community but accountable, above all, to their own high professional standards.

It remains the proper role of government to provide the structures within which schools and teachers can work to ensure that their pupils will achieve. The framework of both the curriculum and examinations is under careful review, and the reforms that have so far been announced will begin to restore the world-class reputation which this country once enjoyed and which it has so sadly lost in recent years. The English baccalaureate certificate will set new demanding standards in maths, English, two sciences, a foreign language and a humanities subject. The pull of the curriculum which these new qualifications will provide will mean a huge increase in the number of pupils studying subjects such as geography, history and triple sciences. In 2010, only 23% of pupils were studying what in anyone’s terms are those basic subjects. That will rise to 47% next year. It is an achievement of which the Government can be proud.

In Ofqual’s review of the curriculum, it is my hope that the importance of religious education will also be recognised, and perhaps restored to the core of those qualifications. At a time when the understanding of other religions is so necessary and when knowledge of the established religion of our country is being alarmingly lost, the argument for good RE for all young people seems to me strong.

Single final exams, requiring students to master each subject with confidence, will replace the modular structure. A modular structure has encouraged spoon feeding and teaching to the test. One-off final exams offer freedom for teachers in methods and approach in ways that modular structures made impossible. Equally, they allow students to explore a subject in greater depth. The exams will discriminate appropriately between the highest achievers and those of more modest achievement, just as every other aspect of life does, from sport to show business to promotions at work and even in politics. We need to identify our stars if we are to compete in the world of the future.

The majority of 16 year-olds are capable of performing in those core subjects to the new demanding standard, and I have every confidence that with the freedom to work to their own professional methods, teachers will rise to the challenge of the new examinations. However, not all young people are motivated by academic study, and it is important to ensure that the substantial minority who do not wish to or are incapable of pursuing academic qualifications have satisfying alternatives. As a country, we have in the past not done enough in our education provision to provide for the nearly 60% who do not go on to university, and our economy has paid the price for that failure. Tough employer-approved vocational exams will replace the jungle of qualifications of varying value that are currently available.

I am also a huge supporter of the university technical colleges pioneered by my noble friend Lord Baker—I am pleased that he is speaking later in this debate. Maintaining the study of core subjects to age 16, they will provide high-quality industry-sponsored technical courses to inspire young people who are uninspired by a wholly academic programme. Five UTCs are already open, with 28 more approved. Within the next two years, I hope that at least 40 of those pioneering colleges will be open. Similarly, 16 studio schools are already open and another 16 approved. These cater to young people in the 14 to 19 year-old age range who learn in more practical ways. They offer work experience, sometimes paid, and a tough curriculum combining academic and vocational subjects. It is no surprise that those schools have proved to be both popular and successful in the early years of their life.

Many vocationally motivated young people are every bit as intelligent as their academically minded contemporaries, and their skills are vital to the economy of the future as well as to the fulfilment of their own aspirations. The growth of university technical colleges and studio schools under this Government has at last addressed the issue of a rigorous, satisfying vocational route for the many young people whose talents lie in that direction.

The primary years are perhaps the most important in any child’s education. They provide the basic skills that open the world of learning and the attitude to learning that he or she will take through the next long years. It is simply a national shame that in recent years one in three children have left primary school without an adequate ability to read, write and add up. More than 40,000 leave primary school at the age of 11 with a reading age of only seven. It is therefore much to be welcomed that the Government have put forward consultation proposals for a core primary curriculum that proposes rigorous high standards in the key areas of maths, English and science, with a much welcome requirement for a foreign language at key stage 2. Outside this core, teachers will have much greater freedom to follow their own professional skill. Very rapidly, we can look to a primary education that gives 11 year-olds the skills and attitudes they need if they are to succeed in their secondary years.

I cannot fail to speak also of the world of higher education, where this country punches so far above its weight. With centuries of academic freedom to their credit, our great universities take their place in the top few in the world. After the United States, no other country features in the top ranks of the international league as we do. It cannot be too strongly urged that nothing—no, nothing—is done to diminish the academic freedom that has fuelled this success. Our leading universities must be free to choose the brightest and best of each generation of young people. The competition for their genius is keen and our competitors recognise that success in this highly competitive global economy depends on them. Trusting the professional academics to spot talent wherever it can be found must be a priority for any Government.

There is much to be done. We have fallen so very far behind our competitors in the world and failed many of the generations of young people who are now out in the world without the basic skills needed to allow them to find a satisfactory place in adult life and work. The great task has begun, however, and the pace of change in this Government’s policies is amazingly rapid. I commend our Government for all that they are doing. I beg to move.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, but perhaps at this point I may remind your Lordships that this is a timed debate and it would be much appreciated if Back-Benchers could keep their remarks to the four minutes allocated.

I will try to do so. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for bringing this debate to the House. From the number of speakers, your Lordships can see what a popular debate it is; the only consequence is that we have very few minutes in which to express our views. I want to concentrate on one aspect and illustrate it with a number of examples, and to begin by sharing some of the noble Baroness’s words. She paid tribute to the high standards that we have and the improvement that has been made in our education system. She put that down in large amount to the very hard work of school leaders and teachers. I join her in thanking and applauding them. I have not always shared her analysis of where we are now or how we have got here, but perhaps that will wait for a later debate.

The point I want to start on is that where we have had success and raised standards—on almost every indicator, we are performing better than a decade ago—it is because we have identified what works and enabled schools to copy that behaviour. That spreading of good practice has rarely been invented in Whitehall; it has usually been found in our best schools. Whitehall at its best has created the structures and means of spreading that to other schools. I pay tribute to both Governments, as through a whole array of measures—Excellence in Cities; federations and chains; heads working in both good and underperforming schools—we have managed to do that.

I want to concentrate on two or three examples where the actions of this Government are deterring schools from doing what we know works and will raise standards. The first example is in sport and art, and all those subjects which are not in the English baccalaureate. I do not want to make an argument against the English baccalaureate. I do not need to be persuaded that the subjects within that assessment and examination are ones which children should know and learn, and be confident in. Our nation and each of those children need them for the future. However, the consequence of that policy is that up and down the country schools are dropping subjects that are not in that group. The noble Baroness mentioned the consequences of targets and league tables: teachers teach to the test and concentrate on those children who can deliver the results. That is what is happening with the English baccalaureate. I cannot have a definition of a successful education system that is not rich in sport, art, music, creativity and all the subjects that are not part of the English baccalaureate.

My second example is the pupil premium. It is an excellent initiative, and I congratulate the Liberal Democrats on bringing it to government, but they must have been as worried as I was to see the recent research that states that schools are not spending the resource on the interventions that are proven to have the greatest impact on school achievement.

In both those cases, and in vocational education, which I think I can confidently leave to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, the Government are taking actions that are defensible in their own right, but the consequences are that some schools are not doing the things they ought to do.

I know from my experience as a Minister that Governments are bound to have priorities. That is the nature of government and is where Governments put their energy and resources, but the Government have to understand that in having priorities there are implications and consequences. Two years into this Government, some of those consequences are coming to fruition: there is too little emphasis on art, creativity and music, and professional autonomy is not balanced by the obligation to use teacher interventions that work with children. Getting that balance right is crucial to delivering an education system that encourages and delivers excellence for all our students.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on introducing this important debate. I am sure we all want the outcomes she described, but we may not all believe in the same methods to achieve them. To my mind, there are two requirements before an excellent education can be achieved: the first is excellent teachers and the second is eager children who have been prepared through their experiences in the early years to be able to make the most of their education. Notice that I did not say anything about structures, and notice also that I did not mention the idea proposed by Mr James O’Shaughnessy of Policy Exchange, the Prime Minister’s former policy chief, that we should allow for-profit companies to take over schools which only recently were considered satisfactory. There is no place for the profit motive in state schooling during the compulsory years. Money is too tight to siphon some of it out of the classroom and into the dividend cheque. To quote one of my noble friend’s colleagues, “No. No. No”. I hope that the Secretary of State is not tempted to go down that path.

My second requirement is a little more controversial than it might sound. We have heard a lot recently about ensuring that children are school ready. On the contrary, I think we should ensure that schools are ready for children and should take account of research when we are considering how best to help our children benefit from their schooling. Work by Dr David Whitebread and Dr Sue Bingham of the University of Cambridge was published only yesterday by the Association for the Professional Development of Early Years Educators, an organisation dedicated to raising the standards of those who work with very young children in all settings. They brought together various studies to question whether the earlier-is-better approach to early years provision is the best way forward. They have concluded that it is not. I should clarify that they are not against provision for two year-olds. It is the date when formal teaching commences that is in question. For example, in 2007 Suggate et al looked at a large sample of children, some of whom started to learn to read at five and others at seven. They discovered that by the age of 10, those who started at seven had not only caught up but had better comprehension of the text.

Another piece of evidence comes from what we know about summer-born children. We know they are disadvantaged in our system, both academically and socially, in that they are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with special educational needs. Research shows that birth date differences even up quite quickly in countries where children do not start formal learning until they are seven. Surely this indicates the damage that can be done to children who are only four for the majority of their year in the reception class. It is alluring to believe that early reading and early academic success are beneficial, but Kern and Friedman in 2009 discovered that early reading often leads to less life-long educational attainment, worse midlife adjustment and worse mortality. This aligned with the findings of the famous HighScope project.

Subjecting children too early to a lot of direct instruction forces them to use parts of the brain that are immature and this can be damaging. It has also been shown that if children are asked to learn things by rote or repetition, they can do it, but they are using the lower, less sophisticated limbic parts of the brain. Later, when asked to do tasks that need the more complex parts of the cerebral cortex, they have a tendency to use the lower parts instead. We need a social pedagogy model rather than an inflexible, time-limited, curriculum model. Can the Minister assure me that the roll-out of early years provision for two year-olds will take account of this and other research?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on calling this debate and on her outstanding opening speech. I find myself unusually in full support of the Government’s proposals—at least those of Mr Gove that I read about in the Times yesterday about post-16 education. I have long called for an end to the extreme specialisation required by the A-level system as it is used in the majority of cases. This has left many scientists and engineers with little practice in expressing themselves literally or orally, and their intellects without the key benefits that learning at least a second language provides. On the other side of CP Snow’s cultural divide, it has left those who opt for the arts and humanities insufficiently numerate and without a knowledge of how the increasingly technological world around them functions.

We have been alone in the developed world in allowing—even encouraging—such specialisation. It has meant that our students possess more advanced knowledge in their specialisation than, for example, American students when they leave school, but find much later that they lack the complementary skills needed to be effective in the real world—either to be able to persuade others of their position or to understand the complexities of the modern world. They then have to acquire these skills when their minds are less agile. Our society has almost encouraged this. Many still hold to the vision of the back-room scientist or engineer, who is extremely clever but lacks the overall vision or ability to lead. We still hear our leaders and politicians almost boasting about their lack of technical understanding and their inability to distinguish between megawatts and gigawatts.

I brought this up many times since joining this House. Six years ago, in the opening paragraph of the summary of recommendations of the report of the Science and Technology Select Committee on science teaching in schools—an inquiry that I chaired—we called on the Government to replace A-levels over the long term with a broader-based syllabus for post-16 students. The Labour Government’s response was to encourage people to expand the availability of the international baccalaureate diploma, but in reality little happened. The proposals of Mr Gove, therefore, are very welcome, although I know that they will receive some resistance from those academics who take a narrow view and are interested only in students excelling in their specialities and do not want them distracted by other topics. This issue extends into higher education and it has long been my position that more universities should follow MIT in having a compulsory humanities, arts and social science component in their science and engineering degrees. Things seem at last to be on the move, and I strongly support the proposals for a broader-based syllabus for post-16 students.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for this debate. The recent Church School of the Future review highlights the Church of England’s aspiration for the 1 million pupils in our schools to experience excellent education. The Manchester diocese educates more children in these schools than any other diocese. We entirely support the noble Baroness’s emphasis on not narrowing our understanding or means of achieving excellence. I offer your Lordships an example.

The Resurrection Church of England primary school in downtown Manchester has an inspirational head teacher who is deeply concerned about the low standard of writing in her pupils. She addressed this by encouraging each year 6 pupil to write to a VIP, including the heads of the Armed Forces and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Their carefully written and illustrated letters invariably elicit responses. As a result, these pupils have an annual visit to Carrington to meet Sir Alex Ferguson and the United team; they have an annual residential visit to an RAF base where they sit in a Tornado; and each year they visit Lambeth Palace for a picnic and then go on to see the London sites and visit the National Gallery. There, they choose a picture on which to base the choreography of the Resurrection school dance, which is a stunning and moving performance that they give for visitors. Last year, they chose Titian’s “Noli me Tangere” and this year they chose Caravaggio’s “The Supper at Emmaus”. Most of these children will never have been in an aeroplane, a Tube train, a palace, let alone have lunch in one, or seen anything like the masterpieces in the National Gallery.

The Resurrection school in Manchester is a supreme example of providing an excellent education with a Christian ethos by imaginatively looking beyond the narrow confines of leagues tables and resisting the utilitarian tendency to see the goal of education as simply league tables and economically viable and employable young people. In achieving that, as the school undoubtedly does in its numeracy and literary skills, Maureen Hogarth, the head teacher, and her staff also achieve excellence in these children’s holistic education by broadening it to include social, moral, cultural and spiritual development. In so doing, they inspire confidence and accomplishment in pupils who have all kinds of abilities and come from many different backgrounds, some of them deeply deprived.

I also want from these Benches to endorse strongly what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said about not including religious education in the English baccalaureate or the newly announced EBCs. I fear that religious education will languish on the sidelines even though it is said to be compulsory. That will deprive pupils of the ability to understand and engage meaningfully with issues of faith, which undeniably play a vital part in the lives of 75% of the world’s population. It really is very unwise to try to sidestep that important subject.

Finally, as the bishop of a diocese that contains the highest concentration of university population in Europe, I completely endorse the noble Baroness’s views about maintaining the high place in the world of British universities, including, of course, the excellent University of Manchester.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of two educational charities and I draw no remuneration from them. I wish to speak only about technical education, an area in which all parties have failed over the past 150 years. The reason for that is that the classic curriculum written by Thomas Arnold in 1840 has dominated English education and has been reinforced by the EBacc. As a result, technical, hands-on and practical learning has been eliminated from English schools.

We had technical colleges in 1945, alongside grammar schools. They were in shabby buildings and were closed by snobbery because everyone wanted to be the school on the hill and not the school involved with dirty jobs and greasy rags. It was a huge mistake. Germany did not make that mistake. It still has a tripartite system, which is one of the reasons why Angela’s ruling the roost. It is not the only one, but one of them.

Four years ago, Ron Dearing and I said that we must recreate these technical colleges and make them better. The university technical colleges are for 14 to 18 year-olds. We believe strongly that 14 is the right age to transfer, not 11—11 is too soon, 16 is too late. We have already discovered that if you treat 14 year-olds as adults, they come to college in business dress. They are given a laptop or an iPad. They start working with their hands for 40% of the working week. They turn up, truancy disappears, bloody-mindedness disappears—referral pupils come to these colleges and they attend.

Each college is supported by a university, so university lecturers, undergraduates and postgraduates go in and talk to the youngsters as part of the university outreach programme, thus introducing them to the richness of university life. We get local employers to create the lessons. Rolls-Royce created eight weeks of lessons on making piston pumps and trained the school staff who had to deliver those lessons. Network Rail created eight weeks of lessons on engineering and level crossing gates. The colleges are filming them, they liked them so much. The National Grid has produced eight weeks of lessons on electrical transmission. More than 400 companies are supporting the 33 schools that have been approved. Thirty-three have been approved, five are open.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hill, and Michael Gove for their support for these university technical colleges. They are the most successful free schools that have been started so far. I invite my noble friend to up the game a bit and get more established as soon as possible. There are 3,200 secondary schools in this country. There is no reason why one in 10 should not be a university technical college, giving a total of 320. It may be thought that that is ambitious but that was the number of colleges we had in 1945, and our country needs them.

This week the Royal Academy of Engineering produced a report saying that we are short of 100,000 engineers and 1 million technicians. The university technical colleges are the only schools and colleges in our country that are producing these young men and women below the age of 18. Therefore, I strongly recommend them. I am glad that this initiative has all-party support. In fact, it started under the previous Labour Government with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. Stephen Twigg supports it and I know that the Liberals support it as well.

As regards the EBacc, I have set up a committee to establish a TechBacc and we will publish our proposals before Christmas. Therefore, this initiative is no longer an experiment; it is a movement. It is encouraging to find youngsters with a very broad band of abilities coming to these colleges. We are agents of social mobility. In the college at Hackney that I visited which has been open for seven weeks, 54% of the students get free school meals—that is a very high proportion indeed—and 80% are black and Asian. I met two pupils who had been expelled from their previous schools and their records were three inches thick. One of the girls was already on the school council and has decided that she wants to go on to college. These bodies are engaging the disengaged but also responding to the needs of our economy.

I repeat that my noble friend Lord Hill is very supportive of these colleges. I say to him that I have some help for him from on high. The right reverend Prelate will remember that the psalm that was read last Sunday was Psalm 90, which ends:

“Prosper thou the work of our hands upon us, O prosper thou our handywork”.

Therefore, I say to Ministers, “Prosper thou our handiwork”.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for bringing forward this debate. Having listened to it so far, I respect the need for standardisation and competition in education. However, having been engaged since the 1960s in seeking an education that takes on board the diversity of the UK, I can only say that the changes to enable black children, especially black boys, to succeed still continue to be a nightmare for parents, teachers and students. Unless a determined effort is made to unlearn the Aryan myth of white superiority, we will be standing here saying the same things yet again.

I ask the House to realise one more time that for the descendants of the enslaved African, education is the only means of achieving upward mobility. The quest for education has been described fully in an autobiography entitled Up From Slavery by Booker T Washington. It is still relevant today. Although, since its abolition, slavery has been long gone, the Aryan myth of white supremacy is alive and well, as we read every day in our newspapers It is sometimes conscious, but at other times unconscious, due to conditioning. Black adults have had to learn how to deal with this myth. Some Aryans, to their credit, have unlearnt the stereotypical view of colour. Others have not, and this directly affects the children in our schools. Teachers cannot do this alone.

Much has been done by the UK to distance itself from racism by producing many reports—Scarman, MacPherson and so on. Laws have also been put in place, including the Race Relations Act, and there have been many publications from the black community, including From Slavery to Freedom by Vidya Anand, and Gus John’s agenda for education. It does well to refer back to Bernard Coard, who suggested how the black child was made educationally subnormal in the education system. Much of that has gone but the well-being of the black child is still an experience that has a long way to go.

However, black British children in schools need equal treatment to be seen as the norm. The measures required are obvious. A case for unlearning racism has been made over and over again. Then and only then will we recognise that the black British child needs education, and that is everyone’s responsibility if we are to have peace in our country. There is a real need for booster groups for each and every school—an organisation of black and white adults who are committed to the survival of their brothers and sisters. Experience has shown that such groups’ presence in schools has an unbelievably positive impact as a source of influence for behaviour modification.

I realise that I have reached my time limit but, before I sit down, I should like to say that it is not all doom and gloom. I want noble Lords to know that Diane Abbott has held regular boostings, especially for young black boys, and now for the girls. Noble Lords will find that those who have had schooling but with extra lessons have done extremely well in this country. They have been achieving eight or 10 A* grades in their examination results. We have seen an increase in the number of children heading for Oxford or Cambridge. For that I should like to say a big thank you, but there is a lot more to be done.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for securing this important debate on education, which allows us to discuss how we can nurture and inspire future generations to aspire.

My mum always used to say, “Education is your passport to life. Go to school and learn to the best of your ability because you can use that gift of education to change the lives of others”. That is why we must make sure that we give all children every opportunity to secure that special gift of education to reach their full potential. However, not all children get that opportunity, especially if they are at a disadvantage and cannot learn at the same pace as others in the class. So there is a need for creative ways to assist these children in order to make them feel included and for them to achieve their best.

One way to assist those with learning and communication difficulties, emotional and behavioural problems, as well as ADHD, is through the use of music. Research has shown that music can produce exceptional results in learning. Children with autism can also significantly benefit from learning through music. Research has shown that if a child is taught a poem without music, they forget it by the following week, but if they learn the poem musically, they remember each word perfectly a week later.

However, music should be available not only for children with learning difficulties; it should be part of all children’s cultural well-being. Research evidence has shown that a quality music education can improve academic attainment in areas such as numeracy, literacy and language.

Sadly, because of money restraints, not all schools view music as a priority, and the responsibility has fallen to many charitable organisations to bridge this gap. Organisations such as the World Heart Beat Music Academy provide musical experiences for children and young people of all social and cultural backgrounds. It gives them a sense of purpose. One young person who has benefited from the academy said, “If it wasn’t for playing music, I wouldn’t be alive. I used to carry a knife a few years ago, but music changed all that. Playing an instrument is my protection now—I just don’t need any knives or weapons on me”. Another commented, “It’s all about gangs these days. You can see the difference between those who do music and those who don’t. We have something to take our minds off things. Instead of going out on the streets and selling drugs and stuff, we have music”. Learning and playing music with others enables young people to feel that they are a part of something—something that nobody can take away from them.

In the current global economic situation, where the widening “have” and “have not” gap has marginalised young people who can see no way out of their disadvantage and isolation, the power of music can transform their lives. The Henley review stated:

“There remains a great deal of patchiness in provision of Cultural Education across England”.

So I ask my noble friend whether the Government will encourage all schools to make adequate provision for music a priority, especially where children are in need of this type of stimulant for their mind, body and soul, and, most importantly, for their well-being, to help them to go out into the world and make a difference to society—for good.

My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry, not least on an excellent and insightful opening speech, in which she laid out the whole agenda for us. Her reward is already with her—she has had a rich cornucopia of responses and I am sure that that will continue throughout the debate.

In his inspiring, if at times fanciful, play about Thomas More, “A Man for All Seasons”, Robert Bolt inserts the following exchange between More and his ambitious young supporter and—dare I say?—almost political adviser, Rich. More has just become Lord Chancellor, with all the power, pomp and patronage that that implied. Rich effectively fronts up and says, “Well, what’s in it for me?”. More looks at him carefully and says, “I think you should become a teacher”. Rich does not think that that is much of an answer for a bright young man like him with a big future ahead of him and a patron like the Lord Chancellor. He says, “Why, why, why?”. More’s response in the play—fanciful, I agree—is, “If you do that and if you do it well, you will know it, your pupils will know it and God will know it”.

You do not have to be a member of the Bishops’ Benches or even a twice-on-Sunday, card-carrying Christian believer to get the point. Teaching is a profession and a calling. This is something we have lost in our community. Whatever the reasons—and there are many—we have lost the sense of the noble calling of being a teacher and the instantiation into our education system of that delicate relationship between teacher and pupil. Standards in education will improve only as teachers are given the status and support that they appropriately should have.

Of course it is fanciful what More says—it is not always quite like that. As a supply teacher I once went to a school and was instructed, “Keep them quiet for six weeks”—not much of a vision of teaching. I have to say, however, that I did teach them some mathematics which would have been helpful in the Department for Transport recently. I used to say, “Show all your workings and make sure that your addition is correct”, and they got the message.

I turn to the role of the teacher and the way in which it has been interfered with. Most of us interfere. I own up to doing so as a former chief inspector of schools. There is a risk that we will all interfere. So let us have a division of labour: the teachers teach and the politicians, advisers, specialists, theorists and academics—and I am one—should facilitate that role. We need to ensure that that division remains in place.

I am encouraged by the policies of the previous Government. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, paid tribute to the quality of the intake to the profession. We are in a position of facilitating, at least at that level. However, the facilitation should go well beyond that. It includes support in terms of freeing-up the teacher from an overintrusive national curriculum. I worry about religious education and sport education. There are ways of dealing with that, but that is for another occasion. An overintrusive national curriculum is a great danger and a constraint on this delicate relationship. However, we are moving in the right direction and there are good signs that the review of the national curriculum will produce helpful results. We have been here before, however, and everyone with a lobby interest queues up at the door of the office of the national curriculum and says, “Insert this”.

Ministers must resist that. There are temptations, as you grow in influence and power, to continue meddling and to think that you know best. Ministers: do not do this. There is good progress so far, but we will be watching. Make sure that the teachers have the facility and support to do what they do best.

My Lords, I have some experience of the subject having run 13 academies last year and 19 this year. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Baker, for talking me into sponsoring CTCs 20 years ago; the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for helping me to get eight failing schools through local authorities; and the noble Lord, Lord Hill, for giving us 10 schools in the past two years and six new schools for next September. We now have 19 schools, and we had 3,200 parents applying for our schools this year. Up until today, we have had 28,000 applicants for 3,200 places. In less than two years, four schools have gone from failing to outstanding; and of the last 10 schools, Ofsted reports have rated nine out of 10 as outstanding, including three at the new grades which were outstanding in every department. So we do know a bit about how to run schools.

We think that education is the most important thing in children’s lives. Some 73% of children in our schools are black, and 54% receive free meals. We do not pick out all the best children, we pick a mixture. We can change a school round very quickly. How do we do it? We do it by getting a good principal, who has the backing of all of us in the team, and good teachers. We also set standards for the teachers of what we expect. We expect all six of the schools that we took over last month to be outstanding within three years. That is the target that we set for all our schools. We like not only results but motivation and sport, which our schools support strongly.

Let me give some figures. Our exam results for maths and English over the past three years have gone up from 31% to 71%—a massive improvement—and the percentage of those achieving five A to C grades has increased from 49% to 96%. In our Croydon academy of 400 sixth-formers—the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, agreed that we could put five schools together—90% got qualifications enabling them to go to university and 85% did go to university. However, the problem we have—the problem that all Governments have—is getting local authorities to agree to failing schools being changed. Parents actually think that failing schools are good. A year later, parents still think they are good. To give an idea of this, we have a school in Beckenham—a classy area—which on average took in 50 children a year and had 50 come in from outside. The school had a total intake of 200 pupils. We have had this school for just one year. Last Thursday we had 2,000 parents there. Last year, instead of 100 children coming in, we took 200 from the local community. So we did not have children thrown in. It is fantastic that parents realise what makes a good education, and realise it quickly. What happened to that school? It went from 36% of pupils achieving five A to Cs in English and maths to 52%. These are the same children and we have changed them in less than two terms.

I know that we do not have much time but I would like to mention quickly that we also took over a school at Eltham Green where, five years ago, a lot of the children were murderers—some of the people involved in the Stephen Lawrence murder went to that school. We had the school for one year under contract from Greenwich council and it went from a 28% pass rate to a 73% pass rate in just one year. This year, our target for that school is 75%

I hope that we have another debate soon but I would like to finish by explaining to the House how we improve our schools and what we do. I would like to explain why I am thankful to the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Hill, for giving us the opportunity to become teaching colleges for teachers, which is very important, and also teaching colleges for heads and vice-principals of the future. One matter which is dear to my heart is that we are going to open within the next 12 months a school for 130 children who have been expelled—excluded children—not only to teach them English and maths but to teach them a trade.

I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on introducing this very important debate. I would like to share an idea which I hope may be of some value in encouraging young people to pursue careers in the vital areas of industry that this country needs if we are to prosper and which may not appear to be as glamorous as some others.

The catalyst for this idea comes from the Architectural Angel awards, which are an annual event that are now held in the Palace Theatre in London in association with English Heritage. The awards recognise the unsung people who set about raising money in order to save or restore historic buildings and who have no support from anywhere other than from themselves. I am pleased to say that the awards have hit a spot. This year we have Clare Balding presenting them, with Graham Norton and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. The awards recognise individuals who, completely on their own, have achieved something in an area that is of enormous value to the nation but is not sung about.

My idea—I stress that this is not formed in any detail—is why do the Government not support an awards ceremony that recognises exceptional achievement by young people in industry in its widest sense, whether it be craftsmen, plumbers, technicians, you name it? My idea is that the awards would be presented in a West End theatre in exactly the same way as the Oscars or the Olivier awards, with categories to be decided and nominees in each category. I believe the awards would receive national TV coverage, generate sponsorship and provide public recognition of trades vital to this country but which do not get shouted about. If the idea has any merit or appeals to anyone, I would be delighted to offer, say, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane or the London Palladium as a venue to host the event.

On a slightly different note—which I feel I have to raise because the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, spoke so brilliantly about music in education—would it not be a good idea if we celebrated the success of the music policy at Highbury Grove school, which I am sure many noble Lords will have read about, which shows that music can make a vital difference?

I end by referring to something that I have mentioned in the House before but which is perhaps appropriate in the 50th anniversary year of the Beatles: that funding arts education should be regarded by the Government as a serious investment and not as an item for cutting.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Perry for instigating this important debate. She has, of course, spent a considerable part of her life helping to improve education standards.

I want to talk about a sector of education which is too often the Cinderella of our education services—further education. I declare an interest in that I am currently chairing a government review into certain aspects of further education. Its initial report came out—not without controversy—earlier this year and I hope that the final report will come out by the end of this month. It would be wrong of me, therefore, to pre-empt the conclusions and aspirations of that report. However, there are a couple of important matters which struck me forcefully during our work which I want to mention today.

During the past nine months I have visited many outstanding further education institutions, both in the private and public sector. I have seen much to enthuse me and I have met many wonderful practitioners who are inspiring and work extraordinarily hard. I pay tribute to them. I pay tribute, too, to my honourable friend John Hayes, who was until recently the Minister of State for Further Education. He was much admired in that role and, of course, in his previous shadow role.

Further education has one extraordinarily important and worrying task. Colleges and other providers tell me that government statistics suggest that some 28% of young people who were 16 or 17 when they left school are functionally innumerate. This means that they have the arithmetical skills of the average nine year-old. Some 15% also are illiterate. This means that too often colleges of further education have to be the remedial department of their local primary and secondary schools. This is a shocking circumstance and FE has to pick up the pieces far too often. Too often also it diverts them from their primary task of equipping young people with the workplace skills which will enable them to found their careers.

This is not for one moment to denigrate the enormously important work which goes on in the teaching of basic skills in our further education colleges but merely to hope that the reforms which the Government are putting into place, and which my noble friend Lady Perry has described extraordinarily well, will in the end make it unnecessary for further education lecturers in further education colleges to teach what are basically kindergarten skills to 16 year-olds. We seriously need to improve upon that.

Schools have to play their part—and, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Perry, some of them do not do very well at the moment—if we are to provide this country with the technically accomplished workforce which will enable it to outperform its competitors in a deep and difficult economic environment.

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for instigating this debate, but in doing so perhaps I may also pay tribute to her huge commitment over many years to the cause of education. We are all grateful for that.

There is one thing on which we all agree: we want to see excellence in education. But, as ever, life becomes more difficult when we seek to define exactly what we mean by excellence. Does it mean that the graduates of our system are proficient in the core academic subjects? Does it mean that we have a credible, fair and reliable way of assessing their merits, and of course an outstanding teaching force as well? Does it mean that we enable every pupil to realise their particular talent and therefore to realise their life potential? Do we prepare young people for the world of work and to play a responsible part in their community as citizens and as parents? Does it mean that we are preparing young people for a lifetime of learning? Or, sometimes, does it just mean that we protect some of the most vulnerable young people in our society from harm, providing a place of safety in what for them is a very unsafe world? Rather inconveniently, perhaps, it means all of these things, so that if we fail in any of them, we really do not have an excellent education system at all.

Like many noble Lords, I believe that excellence in education is about all of these things, and I worry a little that at the moment we are in danger of being perceived as focusing too much on one element, that of the traditional core academic subjects. I want to draw upon two bodies of evidence to justify that concern. One is well researched and the other is a bit more anecdotal. The register of interests discloses that I am an adviser to a company called the Ten group on professional support services which provides online support to 20% of all schools in this country by answering questions which are posed by school leaders. In any week, Ten receives 150 or so questions from school leaders, so it is in a good position to know what schools are interested in and concerned about, and how their priorities are changing. What has been happening over the past few months? Ten has had far fewer requests about issues such as pupils’ health and well-being and child protection. It has seen a 68% decrease in requests for information about community cohesion, and a significant reduction in requests about extended services and activities to engage the local community. And—hear this—it has seen a huge increase in requests for information about inspection, such that they now account for 12% of all the requests made this year as compared with just 4% last year. For me, these are interesting and slightly worrying trends that suggest not only a narrowing definition of excellence and the purpose of education, but also an unhealthy preoccupation with external regulation.

My anecdote comes from having recently presented prizes at what is by any standards an outstanding school that specialises in the visual and creative arts. I am not going to name the school, but its work in those fields is as good as I have ever seen. By the way, last year it managed to get 12 pupils into Oxford and Cambridge and, as important for me, three pupils into Central Saint Martins College. My worry when I spoke to the staff and my worry when I ran a little seminar on design for senior students was that time and time again I was challenged about whether the Government are really behind the creative subjects, and time and time again I said, “They must be, because the creative industries are such an important part of our economy”.

We are in danger of people misunderstanding the signals, so we need to be careful to value all aspects of education in our public statements, and I would say especially the creative arts.

My Lords, apart from congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, I should like to congratulate the Government on their safeguarding of design in the primary school curriculum and on their support for Sir John Sorrell’s Saturday schools to encourage design experience. Design is a sure but not widely understood means of developing general excellence in education because it fosters many key proficiencies, not only the traditional ones of literacy and numeracy, but the ones we particularly need now for the success of our economy—the capability to realise a plan, innovate, collaborate and recognise what the user wants. I also congratulate the Government on commissioning Darren Henley’s excellent reports on musical and cultural education, which drew attention to the mysterious capacity of skill in one creative activity to stimulate confidence and achievement in another.

As for secondary education, I understand the need for a focus on core subjects, but a narrow grouping will not fit our children for the modern world. As a matter of fact, it betrays one of our mainstream British traditions, which is that although Britain is no longer the workshop of the world for all sorts of reasons, and nor is there scope now for the classically educated colonial developers of the world, we have always been and could remain the designers of the world. I am thinking of our inventors from Richard Arkwright to John Logie Baird, Ada Lovelace and Sir Jonathan Ive, to name only a very few, and of our pioneering architects, such as Inigo Jones, who brought Palladio’s designs for homes back to England, thus transforming our domestic architecture. Indeed the Palladian tradition emigrated to Britain with Inigo Jones and later the architecture of the Scottish enlightenment, at least as much a triumph of architecture and design as it is of philosophy and literature. Design was an integral part of that classical tradition.

But we have tended to neglect design in our ideas of the grand English educational tradition, unlike some of our European neighbours. Like technology, it does not figure in Thomas Arnold of Rugby School’s curriculum, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, pointed out. Indeed, most of our inventors were outside the classically educated élite tradition, and came from the non-conformist strand of our culture or from Scotland. But design excellence is nevertheless a dimension of our distinctive variant of European history. We have still a reputation for producing the most innovative designers and the best institutions for teaching design, but this is now vulnerable to intensive investment abroad in courses and institutions. To nurture and preserve our adult attainment, we need to maintain a stream of school participation and the explicit valuing of design as a discipline.

In sum, we are selling ourselves short if we do not include design in formal classical education, and that is quite apart from its close connection with economic growth.

My Lords, I too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on bringing forward this hugely important debate. I like the idea put forward by my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber for an awards ceremony. I would actually go further and say that we should have an Olympics for business, including—most importantly—the creative industries that contribute so much to our economy.

I want to concentrate on the purpose of education. Excellence is of no merit without a purpose. That purpose must be to sufficiently prepare students for work, given that they are likely to seek numerous different jobs, possibly in different countries, during their working lives. In my experience as an employer as well as an employee both here and in the United States, I appreciate that standards matter. I recently had the opportunity to look at some student draft A-level papers, and I was appalled. An ability to articulate their points and to apply basic grammar and coherence to what they were trying to say was absent. Too few pupils from state schools are prepared for work, not through lack of will on the part of teachers, but the fallout from years of so-called “progressive” education lauded by the liberal left. The result has been anything but liberating for the students. Social mobility has fallen and aspiration among so many young has remained just an aspiration. The left, which views everything through the prism of politics, constantly attacks private education when it is clear that students from the private sector are invariably better prepared for university and better prepared for life. Why? In addition to teachers being free to make more demands upon the pupils in order to unleash their potential, there is one simple word: confidence. I speak from personal experience. Even though I received an okay academic education at a state school, my confidence to apply to university, let alone to Oxbridge, was wanting. This problem has not changed much in 40 years—which is a damning indictment of progressive education.

In an article in the periodical Standpoint, a teacher wrote recently:

“The saddest thing about working in a school like this is watching the deterioration of the 11-year-old pupils who arrive in year seven. Many, particularly those from good primary schools, are polite, well-behaved and hardworking when they start secondary school. All this will have changed by the end of the year, once they have had time to absorb the mores of their new environment. Five years down the line in year 11, many can’t even be relied upon to bring a pen to their GCSE examinations”.

Social mobility will not happen as long as too many young people cannot compete for university places without social engineering, and thereafter will not be picked for jobs anyway because they do not have the requisite skills and right attitude to compete with better prepared students. Telling them they have done well at school and higher education and awarding them degrees will not help if they cannot communicate effectively and present themselves with confidence among their peers. They will not get the jobs they have been led to believe they deserve.

In independent schools, pupils are in general at school for longer each day and spend more hours learning both curricular and extracurricular subjects. They are not free to roam the streets at lunchtime and are subject to real and consistent discipline, which gives them clear boundaries for what is acceptable in a civilised society. Good manners are not an option, and both they and their teachers are expected to care about their appearance. State schools should follow suit. Lack of resources is a poor excuse. Some private schools manage very well with less.

In meetings in the City of London, I am with young professionals who are smartly dressed, savvy and well mannered, and who speak confidently in two or three languages. Mostly they are not British; they are from other European countries, from the US and, increasingly, from India.

How do we tackle what I call the confidence and presentational skills deficit and help more children prepare for life in a very tough world? I am hugely encouraged by the Springboard Bursary Foundation, the objective of which is to add a powerful, ambitious and innovative approach to the provision of fully funded bursary places at independent and state boarding schools for disadvantaged children. The aim is to have a profound effect on social mobility and the ethos of the boarding sector. I know that some have an inbuilt prejudice against boarding schools—usually people who have never been to or visited one. Boarding schools have a hugely important role to perform in giving some pupils continuity, consistency and security in their pastoral care. This is vital if these vulnerable young people are going to gain the confidence to compete with their peer group as they grow up. The emphasis is—quite rightly—on academic and social aspiration.

In conclusion, I have one short message for the Secretary of State for Education—just keep going.

My Lords, we all carry a degree of baggage to these debates on education. Whenever I get involved in one, I am aware that I have a great deal of knowledge, and strong opinions, about education, but not always about the same areas of education. I shall limit myself to aspects concerning what I call the hidden disabilities, and to the changes that are coming within the education system.

In a recent conversation, my noble friend Lady Walmsley told me that she was a little fed up with people being frightened by everything. Within the lobby of School Action and Action Plus, there is a process for identifying needs outside the statementing system. This seems to be disappearing. This is a process by which you get extra help to people who are not going to be put into that very specific legal category of a statement. They are very worried because they have not heard what will replace that form of assistance.

As they have not managed to extract an answer from civil servants before now, I hope that the Minister will give us at least the start of that discussion and tell us where we have got to. We are talking about people with dyslexia, autism, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and other conditions that are recognised disabilities. The Equality Act states that we must help them and that if we do not there are sanctions; there is a duty there. Will my noble friend identify the process that the Government are minded to bring in, or tell us whether they are still discussing the process? If he does, he will remove some of the fear factor and the panic that is going on, and probably provoke a more coherent answer. If the Government are not doing this, they will simply end up in the courts somewhere—and I do not think that anybody wants that.

Some government publications refer to enhancing the ability of teachers to secure good discipline. I encourage my noble friend to take a good, hard look at teacher training, both initial and in-service, to spot these hidden disabilities. I am appealing to the selfish gene of the teaching profession. As a dyslexic, you have two very basic survival strategies if you are not receiving the help that you need and are struggling in the classroom. Either you keep your head down, say nothing and hide in the middle of the classroom; or you disrupt the back. A teacher needs to identify that person and give them appropriate help. Often, the biggest thing you can do is to say: “You are dyslexic. Your learning pattern is different. You are not stupid or a write-off”. In doing that, you will solve part of the problem. The teacher will be able to teach and the people around the pupil will be able to learn. You are helping not just that one person at the back, but the people around them as well.

I also have examples concerning autism, which is more complicated. It was described to me as being a four-dimensional spectrum. There are different types of problems in the higher end. People may not be picked up by the health and education care plans. Whatever we think about special schools, most of these people, most of the time, will be in mainstream classrooms. There are just not enough special schools—and in many cases those with disabilities should not be there. We need to know something about how to integrate these people, and inform the rest of the class about them. I heard of a case—apparently this is quite common—of somebody who does not like being touched and who lashes out because it is painful to them when somebody touches them. Unless you have an idea about how to deal with these problems, you are always going to have trouble in the classroom. By giving this knowledge to teachers, you will enhance their ability to teach—and surely we are all agreed that that would be a great step forward.

My Lords, there is too much to say and too little time to say it. We have had 25 wonderful years in UK education, ever since my noble friend Lord Baker became Secretary of State for Education. My noble friend Lord Harris illustrated what momentum we have now. The credit is shared equally between our party and the party opposite; both of us should be proud of what we have achieved. Of course, there have been some idiocies and setbacks in between, but we are human. However, there is still a lot to do and I will mention a few things to which we should pay attention.

The first is the continuous professional development of teachers and the spread of good practice. We have never managed to get that right. We now have an organisation called the Teacher Development Trust, which is immensely impressive. It sprang out of nowhere—a young Teach First in its own particular area. I really hope that we will support it. It is the best hope I have seen of getting this issue right.

Secondly, we must bear down on Ofqual. Allowing GCSEs to become norm references in the covert way that it did was destructive for all our young people and for the system as a whole. The examinations need immediate and radical reform.

Thirdly, we must deal with the myth of class sizes. About the only thing that is established from educational research is that class size, starting at the current level of around 30, makes no difference. Possibly the most inefficient way imaginable to spend money in the educational system is to use it to reduce class sizes. We should take advantage of this in dealing with the coming bulge in the number of primary-level children. We should let class sizes float up by a couple. It will make very little difference to educational achievement, and it will give schools a lot of money which they can spend on improving education. If we are going to have evidence-based education, that is the place to start.

Next, we should pick up the initiative that Peter Lampl is taking on, which is bringing independent schools back into the state system. The book written by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, chronicles how Labour Party policies gave great strength to the independent sector in the middle years of the previous century, and we are all aware of the great strides that he made in laying the foundations for that to be reversed. We now have a once in a generation chance to do something swift and radical, which will bring half the best independent schools back into the state sector—not on the terms that they are suggesting, but not on the terms that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, suggests either. We need compromise and a really radical and committed approach. It is surely the goal of all of us that we should get back to a much more balanced system. We can wait 100 years and hope that it will happen slowly, or we can do something now, when the conditions are right.

I hope that I will manage to persuade my noble friend to do something about the quality of the information that is available. People grouse about league tables. The problem is not league tables; it is that we have only league tables. There is much less information than there should be, and what we have is not of a good enough quality. If we want information on the all-round quality of schools, we need an annual inspector’s letter to tell it to us; it will never come out of figures. If we want accurate figures and to know what progress kids are making in schools, we need proper baseline assessments, not cobbled-together assessments based on very inadequate key stage 2 examinations. I really hope that the Government will make progress on that.

We must continue to encourage the foundation of new academies and free schools. They really offer opportunity. Last night I was at a presentation for a new free school. The enthusiastic parents were all from the black community. They are the ones who really know that they have been getting a raw deal from the state system. They are the ones who want long hours and real education, and there is no way of offering it to them if not through new schools.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, for giving us the opportunity to participate in this important debate. Excellence in schools should mean excellence for all students, from kindergarten through to when the child leaves school and even beyond. It should not be about the excellence of a small group, but about recognising and developing each individual student’s potential, of stimulating their interest in the world and teaching them the benefits and joy of learning to learn.

We should be developing an educational system to fulfil that goal of good education for all children. However, this Government’s new education policy needs to be understood within the context of not only the recently announced changes or the budgetary cuts that are affecting resources and putting a strain on teaching, particularly outside the core subjects, but the austerity programme as a whole. For example, cuts to libraries and cuts to the arts mean a reduction in museum visits and outreach programmes and, not least, the level of hardship that many parents now face means that they often do not have the time to support at home their children’s education. It is disgraceful that the increasingly necessary breakfast clubs should be so reliant on the private company Kellogg’s, FareShare and other food charities.

With my interest in the arts, I am worried about their fragile position within secondary education. Huge concern has been expressed by the arts community over the arts not being a core subject within the proposed English baccalaureate certificate, as Darren Henley’s report, Cultural Education in England, recommended earlier this year. However, this is predictable for a system that is not designed to be inclusive in the first place. The EBC will favour those who are good at exams at the expense, once again, of everyone else. This is potentially a return to the bad old days of an educational system almost entirely geared to that one exam in each subject. The new system could be even worse because it does not allow for resits. I am worried about the proposed loss of the modular structure which suits many students, including children with dyslexia and others who are not good at exams, but allows for the in-depth pursuit of individual projects.

The Government are doing one good thing, stating that only one exam board should be responsible for a subject. But what is the thinking behind the new EBC? This brings us back to excellence but excellence in the very narrow sense. The EBC is designed surely to provide an exclusive pool of talent of perceived excellence required by future employers. Chris Keates of the NASUWT gets it right when she says that this new system is,

“entirely driven by political ideology rather than a genuine desire on the part of the Coalition Government to reform the examination system in the best interests of children and young people”.

We should not be educating our children for their future employers’ sake, but for their own sake. The two things are not identical.

I would like to see these proposals scrapped before their intended introduction in 2017, but if that is not to be the case, I hope very much that Labour will make a firm commitment to reverse these measures when they come to power and pledge to improve our secondary education system in a better direction.

My Lords, it is an honour to take part in this debate. As it has gone on, I have felt less like taking part and more like taking notes, because the quality of the discussion has been so tremendous. We have had the privilege of hearing from former Secretaries of State for Education and former Chief Inspectors of Schools, and I applaud the marvellous way in which the debate was secured and introduced by my noble friend Lady Perry.

Where can I make a contribution here? I speak from personal experience of having been educated in what would today be categorised as a failing inner-city comprehensive, and I will focus on that aspect. We know that there is a great difference in performance and outcomes between the most materially poor parts of society and the most materially affluent parts. According to the Sutton Trust, 18% of free-school-meal pupils achieve five GCSEs, including English and maths, compared to 61% of those who do not qualify for free school meals.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is fond of making the analogy that there are more pupils graduating with three straight As at A-level from Eton College than from a cohort of 80,000 free-school-meal pupils each year. These statistics tell us to focus on a core problem. Yes, we need to continue to push the boundaries of excellence at the top but we need to raise the bar at the bottom, and we have done. I share my noble friend Lord Lucas’s critique that we have gone through 25 years of progressively improving educational standards in this country. My noble friend Lord Baker deserves a great deal of credit for initiating that period of change. During that time, there have been huge changes in teacher training, the quality of teaching and the fabric of the school environment. Having been involved in setting up one of the flagship city technology colleges 20 years ago in Gateshead, I know what a difference having an excellent fabric makes.

We have focused on tackling the problem in many ways, but going back to my experience of a failing inner-city comprehensive, the dimension that we still wrestle with in inner cities to this day is the level of expectations. The one difference between the top public school and the inner-city comprehensive is still the level of expectations—not so much of the teachers, although that is a factor, but of the parents and the pupils—as to how they are going to achieve and excel in life. There is still a deeply grained mentality that academia is “not for the likes of us”, and if we are going to bring about lasting change in this country, that needs to be tackled head-on.

At my school, you would think that what we were in business for was to produce professional footballers, and we did phenomenally well at that. But if that same expectation was put into the maths classroom or the chemistry lab, we would deliver outstanding scientists, mathematicians and business leaders. I urge my noble friend to think about the role of great expectations in education.

My Lords, I found the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bates, a breath of fresh air. It brought some reality to our debate by identifying the problem of inequality of expectation in Britain. I am very sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is no longer in her place, because, having listened to her, I thought that I should make a different speech from the one that I was proposing. She talked about the problem of the difference in confidence between public schools and private schools and the rest. Well, it is a zero-sum game: people with all the facilities and all the privilege will be more confident, and that is what their parents are buying. Let us face it, with the apartheid that exists in our educational system, people have an incentive if not to pull up the drawbridge then to want to get the greatest return on their investment in private education. That is perhaps not a very polite thing to say, but I challenge anybody to say what is wrong with that analysis.

Some years ago, as a member of the Franco-British Council, I was on a sub-committee dealing with forward planning of seminars, or colloques, as they were called. We were looking around the table for ideas and this French chap said, “I propose we have a colloque on the education of the elite”. The British representatives around the table nearly dived under it—“The education of the elite? How can you say such a thing?”. I was thinking about this. Did they react in that way because what they were talking about was not something that they recognised? Oh, no, it was not that; it was their embarrassment that anybody had said that that was what they were talking about—the education of the elite.

Here we are today in the House of Lords. A look at the figures shows that 79% of the Conservative Benches in the House of Lords went to public school. The figure for the Liberal Democrats is 54%, 34% for Labour and 76% of the Cross-Benchers—I am not saying that that is true of the people here today, but it is the overall statistic from the Sutton Trust. That makes us very unrepresentative of the British people, 7% of whom went to public schools. The noble Baroness who introduced the debate is therefore very representative of the House of Lords in having been to a public school, but that majority is not representative of the British people.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, touched on how different we are from Germany in so many ways, and this is one of them. It is our caste system in Britain. When we think about what happens in India, we think, “Oh, that’s India. It’s quite exotic and totally different”, but, statistically, our position in Britain and that of the Brahmins are very similar, which is one of the reasons why our society is not as dynamic as some others. I agree that there are many modern societies which we would not want to give a second thought to; for example, China. I am not advocating anything like that, but I am advocating the system in some of the more modern European economies. It is not sufficient to say, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has done, that we should look just to the excellence of our universities without looking at the excellence of our economy as a whole; for example, compared with Germany.

Finally, I point out the very interesting report published today. The Milburn report, commissioned by the Government, makes some very damning criticisms of the Government’s policy. Scrapping the EMA was a “very bad mistake”, it states. At a time when we are looking forward to the school leaving age going up to 17 next year and to 18 in 2015, what will be the position of those youngsters, particularly black youth? I really think that there is a bit too much self-congratulation in the analysis in this Chamber today.

My Lords, perhaps I could begin by saying that I am a proud product of the state system. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on initiating this debate and covering so much ground in her opening speech. A lot has been said about the improvements being made to our education system. Increasing choice and raising standards are both crucial, and I applaud the remarkable progress being made.

However, I shall devote my remarks to the need to empower teachers. Children are all different. Nature and nurture ensure that, by the time the education system gets hold of them, they have varied talents and abilities and varied personalities. Some are confident and raring to go—that is in the inner cities as well as elsewhere—and some, and one would be too many, are already cowed into submission or consumed with anger by their circumstances. As their school careers progress, these traits can be exaggerated. Some children are pre-programmed to fail. Caring teachers can rescue them.

The best teachers are those who treat their charges as individuals and have the real desire to nurture them and to bring out what is best in them. That is why, whatever the demands of the curriculum, there has to be time, and place, for attention to be paid to the children as individuals. There are various blueprints for doing this. Secondary schools, where I think they have learnt in part from the public system, operate a house system which seems to work particularly well in assigning a degree of pastoral care to pupils. Thanks to the Lord Speaker’s Peers in Schools programme, I have been lucky enough to visit schools where children from very different backgrounds are thriving thanks to structures which build relationships between teachers and pupils that go far beyond exam marks.

A teacher attending to a child in the round can transform a life. He or she can detect problems that children suffer—we have heard about the difficulties, for instance, with autism and dyslexia. The right teacher can ascertain where a child’s real interests lie and encourage them to make the most of their talents. This is, of course, what parents do, but some parents are unwilling or just unable to do so. Teachers often truly are in loco parentis. We need to ensure that they are trained and encouraged to carry out that role to the full. My noble friend Lady Perry talked of the need for trust. Well, we have to trust our teachers to put a comforting arm around a sobbing child, to administer medicine to a poorly child and to demonstrate humanity. A few may abuse their position, which should never be tolerated—in the current climate, in the wake of the Savile affair and so on, opinions are obviously going to be influenced again—but we must not overreact and impose undue restrictions on our teachers.

When teachers try to impose order on disorderly pupils, they, too, deserve our support. Too often, we hear of teachers who have confronted the most appalling, violent behaviour in the classroom, and it is they who end up being disciplined. Too often, school governors are fearful of what the media and disruptive parents might say, but teachers need our support.

We should recognise the extraordinary contribution made by some teachers who throw themselves into extracurricular activities such as weekend sports matches and school plays and who build a school into a thriving community. Those who give so much of themselves should surely be rewarded, if not financially then when it comes to promotion.

My Lords, my comments will be slanted towards science but I do not downplay equally well-grounded concerns about other subjects. Sadly, some citizens cannot tell a proton from a protein, but it is equally sad if they do not know their nation’s history, cannot write clearly, cannot speak a second language and cannot find North Korea or Syria on a map. But there is no gainsaying that an ever-growing fraction of jobs needs specific skills, at levels ranging from basic technical competence through to the level expected of professional scientists, medics and engineers.

The very young have a natural interest in science—whether focused on space, dinosaurs or tadpoles—and an affinity for computers that far surpasses that of their elders. The challenge is to sustain these interests through and beyond the primary school stage. I am impressed by the dedication and initiative of the best science teachers but the sad thing is that there are not enough to go round. More than two-thirds of primary schools do not have a single teacher with a science qualification. Many pupils are not exposed to a maths or physics graduate even in secondary school. Therefore, it is of little surprise that the natural enthusiasm of the young all too often gets stifled rather than stimulated.

We should aspire towards the situation in Finland, but that is a long-term goal. More immediately, it is important to reduce the fraction of young teachers who drop out; to expand and facilitate mid-career transfers into the profession from, for instance, industry, universities or the Armed Forces; and to enable experienced teachers of other subjects to mug up enough maths and physics to compensate for the special shortage of graduates in those key subjects. There is a huge educational upside from the well-guided use of computers and the web. That can amplify the reach of the best teachers.

Good teachers not only cover the curriculum but need to organise practicals and field trips, and offer bright pupils the kind of enrichment offered by participation in maths and physics olympiads. But realistically it will take years before all young people of high potential receive the academic nourishment and support that gives them a fair chance of access to high-quality university courses. During those years, a huge amount of potential talent will remain unfulfilled.

So how can we enhance opportunities with the present teaching force? I think that universities can do more. They can offer summer courses, encourage graduate students and post-doctoral researchers to spend time in schools and make their barriers to entry less rigid. We could have a flexible credit system, allowing transfers between institutions. Universities could reserve some fraction of their places for people who have not come directly from school but have intermitted, done a foundation degree, got further educational qualifications or suchlike.

There is a lot we can learn from US universities, quite apart from the educational breadth that the noble Lord, Lord Broers, mentioned. There is a trend to extol the Ivy League, but a more relevant model for Britain is the Californian state system. Its three-level structure of colleges embodies an enviable combination of excellence, outreach and flexibility—or did, at least, until the Californian budget crisis. A substantial fraction of those who attend the elite universities in the system, such as Berkeley, have come not directly from high school but via a lower-tier institution. To give a fair chance to those unlucky in their secondary-school years—the issue that Alan Milburn addressed—our tertiary education should evolve towards a more diverse and flexible ecology, with a blurring between higher and further education, and more involvement with schools.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. Like others, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Perry on her excellent speech. We have heard some splendid and very moving speeches. I refer particularly to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and to the speeches of my noble friends Lord Harris and Lord Baker. In the brief time at my disposal, I should like just to talk of four things in four minutes that would develop excellence in education.

The first is the teaching of history, which has not yet been touched upon save briefly by the noble Lord, Lord Rees. I believe that every child leaving school in this country should, at the very least, have a chronological knowledge of the history of his or her own country without missing out great chunks. This does not happen at the moment and we should put that right.

Secondly, I was very moved by what my noble friend Lord Baker said when he quoted the psalm:

“Prosper thou the work of our hands”.

For some 25 years, I have run a scheme called the William Morris Craft Fellowship, which we give to marvellous young craftsmen and women to broaden their knowledge and give them a greater ability to manage heritage building projects. I very much liked what my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber said. I would like craftsmen and women to be more prominent in the public eye and the work that they do to be more appreciated so that, in our schools, young people feel challenged to take up the crafts and believe that, if they follow a craft career, they are not having second best but are in fact doing something that will contribute to future generations’ enjoyment.

Thirdly, I very much believe that we do not give our young people the opportunity to emerge into the world when they leave school as proper citizens. I would like citizenship education to play a real part in the curriculum and not just be a sort of reluctant add-on extra. At the moment, a group of us in this House are working towards getting a citizenship certificate that all young people would take. That would concentrate their thoughts on community participation and awaken their instincts—they all have them—of loyalty and responsibility. We would then have a generation of children coming out of our schools who felt that they belonged to a community and had obligations to that community. We really ought to face this one. A group of us had a meeting with Nick Hurd in the Cabinet Office just before the House rose in July but we are trying to further this. I hope that those Members of your Lordships’ House who did not know of this initiative and would like to take part in it will let me know.

Finally, I take up the points made by my noble friend Lady Perry when she talked about our universities, how excellent the very best of them are and how vital it is that we nurture them. I will say one thing about the visa situation. It is far better that someone who is not entitled to be here comes into this country than that we shut out a future Nobel Prize winner. We ought to take away visas from the general immigration statistics. I really hope that if nothing else comes out of this debate, my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford will promise to talk to those responsible in Government to try and bring some sense and balance to what at the moment is a chaotic and unsatisfactory situation.

My four minutes are up. This debate has illustrated the need for more general debates in this House. Now that we are not going to have the nonsense of debating its abolition, let us have more general debates when we can talk about the issues that really interest and concern our fellow citizens.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Perry has rightly received many plaudits and I want of course to be connected with them. In my four minutes, I will make brief reference to the independent sector of education, with which I was closely associated for over six years as general secretary of the Independent Schools Council. My view is somewhat different from that of the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall.

As is well known, much excellence resides in our country’s independent schools. Sadly, the excellent education which so many of our independent schools provide is beyond the reach of most families in our land. Social mobility is a notable casualty of this tragic state of affairs. There are those who say that the state should help to equip families on modest incomes with the means to pay for places at independent schools. Admission, it is argued, should be decided by ability, not income. At the Independent Schools Council, I was involved in promoting an ambitious scheme to achieve open access. The cause has recently been taken up again by a large group of far-sighted independent heads committed to greater social mobility and supported by the excellent Sutton Trust, rightly praised by my noble friend Lord Lucas.

A Minister of Education said that he saw,

“no reason to use public money to subsidise the transfer of boys from one system to the other on a basis of selection in which nobody knows what would be just or why”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/1961; col. 898.).

The Minister in question was the Conservative Sir David, later Viscount, Eccles, speaking in 1961. No one so far has succeeded in finding criteria for a wider access scheme to the excellence of independent schools that is capable of commanding widespread public and political support. The most successful attempt, the Conservatives’ assisted places scheme, was always strongly opposed in some quarters. At its height, some 40,000 pupils benefited. It is greatly to the credit of independent schools that roughly the same number of children have free or subsidised places today as a result of the fee assistance that they provide through means-tested bursaries totalling more than £284 million.

Useful progress can be made through small-scale state-supported schemes, such as the provision of places in boarding schools for certain children in care who would be suited to them. There is growing support, as your Lordships’ House noted recently, for arrangements backed by charities and the Government that would increase the availability of such places significantly. However, as things stand today, the reality is that if independent schools are to spread the excellence for which so many of them are so well known, they will need to put themselves into a closer relationship than ever before with maintained schools, as my noble friend Lord Lucas made clear with his customary passion.

The steady growth of the academies programme and the introduction of free schools under this Government provide hugely important new opportunities for independent schools. Progress in exploiting them has not been as rapid as some might have wished. Thirty-three independent schools are now sponsoring or co-sponsoring academies. According to the ISC, another 18 sponsorships are under negotiation and a further 85 are possible in the next few years. Many parents throughout our country will hope that the pace of change can be quickened. The results of change can be impressive. Within a year of Wellington College sponsoring Wellington Academy, the percentage of pupils gaining five A* to C grades at GCSE rose from 43% to 98%. As the Master of Wellington College, my friend Dr Anthony Seldon, said:

“Academies work, and the partnership with an independent school provides extensive opportunities for both schools to learn way beyond the academic”.

There has been much reference recently to the famous Tory phrase “One Nation”, first used not by Disraeli but by Stanley Baldwin, a great social reformer, in 1924. Everyone in our country recognises that we are still far from making a reality of Baldwin’s vision in our education system, but surely there is no other basis for the lasting success of all our schools.

My Lords, I think I must restrain myself and not follow directly some of the comments that have just been made. I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and agreeing with what she said about the quality of teachers and how crucial it is that we continue to try to improve it. It is also important that we do all that we can to respect teachers and the whole of the teaching profession. I wonder where all this discussion about giving teachers more freedom sits with the Secretary of State’s apparent desire to prescribe the history curriculum in every detail. Perhaps we should remember what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said about the need for a division of labour.

I am not sure that I am quite as optimistic as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, about the new examination system. I am not against a baccalaureate, but we are going to have a British bacc, a technical bacc, an A-bacc, new vocational qualifications, and I wonder whether we will have a totally cohesive and comprehensive system.

I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, when he says that we should look at young people from the age of 14 to 18, or maybe 19. I appreciate his work on technical opportunities, and in particular the need for parity of esteem for those types of qualifications. We need a holistic approach to qualifications and opportunities for young people between the ages of 14 and 18 or 19. I believe that we can achieve that only by a credit accumulation system, which would include modular elements, as has been suggested. That is the only way to get real parity between academic and vocational achievements. It would also allow for acknowledgement of the work in arts, music and sport that others have mentioned.

I am surprised that there has not been more mention of the need to concentrate a great deal of resources on early years education. If we are talking about long-term excellence, we must concentrate a great deal of attention there. I am also surprised that mention has not been made of the Open University, which is a world leader and something which this country should be proud of and to which our other universities should look to in the support that it gives students, its course material, openness and approachability. Others could learn from that.

In a very limited debate, there is a lot that everyone wants to say, so I will confine my other remarks to one aspect: a word that has been mentioned many times today—aspiration. Much of what is said about how we want to raise and realise the aspirations of children, young people and adults no one would question, and I fully support that objective. However, if we are really going to provide opportunity for all, we must find better strategies to deal with those who are non-aspirational: the families, parents and children who feel incapable, threatened, insecure or alienated from education. That is a real problem.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, talked about the influence of her mother. All teachers know that if you have motivated parents, it is much easier for the child to succeed. Unfortunately, some parents do not have a good experience of education. There are many reasons for that. We know that levels of illiteracy and innumeracy are far too high. Some are very fearful of any formal environment, some find their responsibilities overwhelming, and some do not want themselves or their children to be taken out of their comfort zone to an alien world of education that they find threatening. Sometimes, unfortunately, teachers accept that and do not have expectations for some children from families with difficulties.

The Government’s approach—some of the cuts that are being introduced hitting early years and the support for those families, and doing things such as not ring-fencing the pupil premium—will make the situation worse. We have the very real challenge of making opportunities a reality for those children and helping them to break through to make the progress that they could.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on initiating this debate and on her excellent speech. In her wide-ranging speech, she referred to the importance of vocational education, as have other noble Lords, and that is what I want to concentrate on in the first part of my speech this afternoon.

I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, talked about parity of esteem, because it is a phrase that seems to have disappeared over the past few years. I accept that everyone says that we must have an excellent vocational system, but I am very concerned that some measures in place at the moment make parity of esteem difficult or, worse, might unwittingly encourage actions that meet performance table measures but militate against excellence. For example, the new Ofsted framework no longer includes a grade for the quality of post-16 education. Some reports might include just a one-line descriptor of what is happening in a school’s sixth form. Parents look at Ofsted reports, and if a school is deemed to be outstanding at the pre-sixth form level, that is wonderful, but parents need guidance when they are trying to compare what is on offer in their local area. They need a comprehensive report.

More worryingly, Ofsted judges colleges by a different yardstick to schools: their success rates—that is, the number of students who start and subsequently achieve a qualification. However, they rarely comment on that for schools and academy sixth forms. There is also inequality in judgments across post-16 providers because there is no common methodology for assessing student outcomes. Given that the White Paper, The Importance of Teaching, said in 2010 that the Government would introduce clear comparison measures between providers of 16-18 education, can the Minister please update the House on the progress of this important aim?

I want to address briefly the announcement earlier this week about what has been called revisions to A-levels. I prefer to see it as the broadening of the academic qualification at 18. I was, for 10 years, a governor at Impington Village College, a comprehensive community college in Cambridgeshire, which was one of the first state schools to introduce the international baccalaureate. Indeed, two of my children did the IB.

I have long regretted the narrowness of the A-level curriculum and endorse the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Broers, that we need a much broader system. The strength of the IB is that if you are a scientist you must continue with English language and at least one humanities subject, while if you are a humanities student you must continue with maths and science right the way through. It provides an excellent pre-university qualification, part of which, to pick up comments from other noble Lords, includes a module on students’ own community service. Many people do not know that the international baccalaureate programme offers education from early years right the way through to 18, and at different levels. It is not just a top-strand academic qualification. I hope that in the revisions which the Secretary of State announced earlier this week, we really will look at broadening sixth-form or 16-18 entitlement, whether academic or vocational.

I want to pick up on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, about class sizes not mattering. At Impington Village College some years ago, we took the view that we would alter class sizes. Some students really needed very small classes to be able to progress. They were often those who came from backgrounds without educational support. The more able students who had parental support did just as well in much larger classes. The point is that the schools have to be able to have that flexibility.

Finally, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd-Webber, that there are already a number of craft awards. There are not just the William Morris fellowships that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned. John Hayes announced earlier this year the new national craft skills awards, while the Royal Television Society has craft and design awards. The UK’s skills show in November is going to showcase the best of this country’s craft and technician students. It would be lovely to have more celebrities supporting them. If that means a glitzy ceremony in London bringing them all together, I am all for it.

My Lords, you must be weary. I shall make only one short but important point. I want to draw attention to an area of education in which I believe there is a serious and lamentable lack of excellence in our education system today. Ofsted tells us that in most of our secondary schools personal, social, health and economic education is being badly taught or not taught at all. Ofsted reports tell us that PSHE teaching in most secondary schools is very much a Cinderella subject. It is mostly taught, if taught at all, by teachers with no specialist qualification in the subject, given little or no curriculum time and edged out by examination subjects. In contrast, Ofsted tells us that PSHE in primary schools is, on the whole, well or at least satisfactorily taught.

Most young people of secondary school age are keen to understand more about the responsibility and challenges they are going to encounter in adult life, not least the challenges of parenthood. These issues need to be explored interactively but under guidance as part of every secondary school’s PSHE education programme and as part of the adolescent’s preparation for life. Ministers justify the status quo by quoting an Ofsted figure for all schools. That figure shows that in 74% of all schools, Ofsted considers that PSHE teaching is “satisfactory” or better than satisfactory. Does that figure contradict that report saying that it is bad in secondary schools? I am no statistician, but it seems that if you add together the large number of satisfactory primary schools with the much smaller number of secondary schools, which are unsatisfactory, you are bound to get a confusing and misleading answer. The Ofsted reports on secondary schools make the picture absolutely clear; most secondary schools are failing their pupils in this area.

In my view, it is irresponsible not to prepare adolescents adequately for the challenges and opportunities of adult life in a way that is excellent. It is irresponsible to leave them to rely mainly on soap operas for the knowledge they need and irresponsible of us not to encourage and support them in exploring what the future holds for them. Will the Government please look seriously at the possibility of setting up or sponsoring, at one of the major teacher training establishments, a pilot project to establish and develop specialist teaching skills in this area?

My Lords I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Perry for introducing this debate on what is an absolutely vital subject for our country. Our education starts on the day we are born and continues in one form or another until the day we die, but our more formal education starts when we learn to read—and the quicker and better this is done, the better chance we have throughout our education and our life. I want to speak about one issue that, at no extra cost, could transform our education system and the lives of thousands of children. I refer to teaching by the “cat sat on the mat” method, a phrase I plan to use throughout my remarks. The term of phonics for this method of teaching may be understood by many; conversely, it will not be understood by many. We should have a method that is understood by everyone. Keeping it simple and, in a way, repetitive is at the very heart of what I want to say.

“The cat sat on the mat” is not the only way to teach children to read but it is undoubtedly the best. All our children deserve nothing but the best and it naturally follows that the best should be the only way to give every child the best possible start. I understand the Government’s reluctance to give direct instruction from the centre to individual schools but the size of the problem surrounding learning to read demands that something be done immediately. A start has, I know, been made: Nick Gibb, who was until recently Schools Minister, did an excellent job and he believes firmly in “the cat sat on the mat”. Yet that start is not dynamic enough and time is not on our side.

There is rightly much talk and concern about child poverty, family break-ups, free school meals, equal opportunity and so on. There are no reasons why every single child should not be taught to read the best way and given the same start as everyone else. Over 20 years ago, when I was a Member of Parliament, two ladies came to my constituency surgery. They ran a private school specialising in remedial teaching at the primary stage. They came to beg me to persuade my local authority to use, as they did, only “the cat sat on the mat” in all schools. They brought tapes and booklets of their method and told me that, using that method, they were able to take children from a reading age of five to a reading age of to nine in two terms. Most importantly, they told me—this is hard to believe—that the local authority sent children to them to be brought up to speed by their method but would not use it in its own schools. Needless to say, I had a meeting with the chief education officer, and I am afraid that I got the muddled response that I have been hearing ever since, and which I hope will not be the Minister’s response today since it has led to our present problems.

The doubters say that there is more than one way to teach reading. That is true, but all use less effective methods. They say that circumstances may vary from child to child and school to school. This is true too, but the best method is the best, regardless of circumstances. They say that we must leave it to individual heads and teachers to decide. Why, when it is clearly not delivering the best chances for all our pupils? “The cat sat on the mat” may be rather more demanding of teachers, but the joy when the child takes off and enters the world of books is incredibly satisfying for teachers and pupils alike.

A wise man once said that all great issues are essentially very simple but we make them complicated when we do not want to face them. This is simple, costs nothing and would change the lives of thousands of children at once. I urge the Minister to do all he possibly can to persuade every primary school in the country to use the “cat sat on the mat” method as a matter of the greatest possible urgency.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on securing a debate on this very important topic which has such crucial relevance not only for the well-being of children but for so many aspects of our social and economic life. We have had an excellent debate, and I hope colleagues will accept in advance my apologies for not being able to do full justice in the limited time I have to the many knowledgeable contributions that we have heard today demonstrating the tremendous expertise across the House and the commitment to ensuring excellence for our children.

It has been said that much has been achieved in raising standards over the past 15 years, but how we achieve excellence for all children depends on our definition of excellence in education as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, reminded us. Exam results are crucial, but indicate only how well or otherwise a cohort of children has done. They do not tell us how far each child has achieved excellence or reached his or her potential, and that is primarily what we should strive for in excellence: the outcome for each child and whether it is the best that could have been achieved. Here I have great sympathy with the points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty.

It is important that we look at the Government’s record on this in the round. As we have emphasised around the House today, one of the key factors in achieving good outcomes for children is the quality of teaching, and therefore I applaud the Government’s decision to build on the measures introduced by my Government to achieve the best cadre of teachers ever. Raising the quality of new entrants, expanding the Teach First programme and focusing on continued professional development, which was rightly emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, are welcome measures that will continue to have a positive effect on student attainment.

However, in respect of other government changes, the jury is out on whether they will improve outcomes for all children. Cutting all schools loose as academies and free schools, supposedly accountable directly to the Secretary of State, with no local accountability to parents or communities, will not necessarily raise standards for all. Indeed, I can see no evidence for the article of faith that is the Government’s mantra; namely, that we only have to set all schools and head teachers free in order to raise standards. If that were the case, we would have had a world-class education system decades ago when schools were left pretty much to their own devices. Instead, we had a two-tier system with excellence for a few, the rest written off as second class and a long tail of underachievement, the legacy of which is still with us today. The Government have not produced any evidence to support their changes, so we will have to wait and see whether the focus on the EBacc without an equally strong commitment to vocational and technical education—which was called for by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lady Taylor—moving from modular GCSEs to linear courses of study, raising the thresholds on grades and returning to an outdated history curriculum will improve outcomes for all children.

However, there is one thread running through the Government’s measures that causes me concern; namely, that they are wholly focused on schools and what goes on in the classroom. Yet we know that the factors influencing attainment go beyond and start well before school. So far, we have not seen any priority given to effective measures to address the barriers to learning for disadvantaged children or giving all children the good start before school that is essential to their future development. Indeed, other government policies have seriously diminished the prospects of excellence for many of these children and young people, and I want to consider briefly two significant groups of children and how they stand now in relation to the totality of government actions.

The first group is disadvantaged children. The Government, and Nick Clegg in particular, have made much of the pupil premium as the measure which ensures additional help for disadvantaged pupils, including those with a disability or from black or minority ethic communities, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lady Howells reminded us. Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector, found that over half of schools said the pupil premium was having little or no impact on these pupils. Few schools could say how they were spending the money and, as my noble friend Lady Morris said, were not spending it on proven interventions for individual children. Leaving aside the fact that the pupil premium was not new money in the first place, the failure of most schools to use the fund to accelerate the progress of disadvantaged children must be of concern. Will the Minister say what action the Government are taking to ensure that all schools spend the money in the way intended and show demonstrable progress for these young people?

Not only is the pupil premium not working to the benefit of disadvantaged pupils but these same pupils have been adversely affected by other government actions: the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Lea, the downgrading of school sport, art, music and creative subjects, including design, which was raised by my noble friend Lady Whitaker, and cuts in school support for deaf and other disabled children. Scope has reported this week that two-thirds of families with a disabled child are no longer getting the local services they need. There are cuts to breakfast clubs and after-school activities and teachers are reporting more and more children arriving at school hungry. The poor PHSE in secondary school, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will differentially affect children at risk of social and economic disadvantage. When will the Government’s review of PHSE finally be published?

International research established a long time ago that disadvantaged children in particular need the opportunity to develop non-cognitive skills through a wide range of enriching activities in order to be able to make the best of their educational opportunities. Indeed, this should not be a surprise because the best independent schools—have always had extensive programmes of extra curriculum activities to support their pupils’ learning and to raise the high aspirations that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, rightly identified as important. Opportunities for disadvantaged pupils in state schools to have their needs addressed and to participate in enrichment activities outside the classroom are being severely diminished under this Government, and this will have a significant impact on their educational attainment.

The second group of children are pre-school youngsters. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Taylor for raising this. Again, research here and abroad has long established the importance of a rich and stimulating experience for the pre-school child who needs to be cared for by parents or carers who understand the importance of supportive social interaction between adult and child as the vehicle for language and speech and social and emotional development. The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, mentioned the cat sat on the mat. I do not know about that, but I am rediscovering Doctor Seuss and The Cat in the Hat at the moment with my grandchildren, and I very much agree with what the noble Lord had to say.

This actually was the basis of Sure Start, set up under the previous Government, which was a drive to improve the quality of all early—years settings and to introduce support programmes for those parents who needed help to understand what their children needed. We know that it is in these early years of life—well before the child goes to school—that the brain undergoes one of its most critical periods of development.

New scientific research reported only this week followed a large cohort of children for some two decades. It found that pre-school cognitive stimulation significantly predicts the actual amount of grey matter in the cortex of the brain at age 17; and therefore determines the very capacity to learn and think. So early years experiences actually shape for better or worse the neurological development of the child. Yet the Government have seriously undermined the opportunity for young children and their parents to get the support they need for that best start for every child. In 2012, the Government cut the funding for Sure Start, rolled it into a single early intervention grant, with no ring-fence for the early years. That was bad enough and has already significantly reduced provision for the youngest children and their parents. Now we discover that the early intervention grant is being abolished, with the bulk being top-sliced to pay for the nursery places for two year-olds, when we were led to believe that this would be funded with additional money.

A much reduced sum for early years is now simply going into the revenue support grant for every local authority; it is not ring-fenced, so early years provision will have to compete with all the other spending demands a council might have. I just wonder what this says about the Government’s real commitment to the youngest children and this crucial stage of development. It is quite clear that, without measures to enrich pre-school experiences, and therefore support the neurological development of many of our youngest children, their later potential to excel in school will be permanently impaired.

This debate has been about the measures necessary to achieve excellence in education; we have heard much about school structure, exam arrangements and what should be essential subjects. These are all important, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, had some interesting proposals on this, including his support for citizenship education, in which I am very interested. However, changing the architecture of the system will not produce excellence for all children unless there are also measures to remove the barriers to learning for disadvantaged children in school and to enhance the development of children before they get to school. On these measures, I am afraid, the Government are getting worse and not better.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for giving us this opportunity for what has been a fascinating, wide-ranging and quick-fire debate—and it has been none the worse for that. I have more time than other noble Lords but I will try to rattle through to address as many of the points that have been raised as I can. Few know more about excellence than my noble friend—who is a former Chief Inspector of Schools, the vice-chancellor of a university and the head of a Cambridge college—so I think it is fair to say that her words carry particular weight.

Today there has been broad agreement that we want excellent education for all and not just a minority; that when we talk about excellence, we should mean excellence in vocational and technical education and not just academic; and that when we talk about education, we must never just mean exams, but everything that goes on in schools. That includes music, as my noble friend Lady Benjamin rightly argued; drama, art, sport; and the building of character and preparation for later life, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, reminded us. In that context, I loved the description given by the right reverend Prelate of the Resurrection Primary School up in Manchester, which seems to be exactly the kind of example of a broad range of education that good schools will provide for their children.

I do not agree that there has been a narrowing of definition about excellence, an issue which I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, is concerned about. I can see the point that lies behind his concern—that in wanting to re-emphasise the importance of academic subjects, it might sometimes give the impression that that is what the Government are concerned about to the exclusion of all else. That is not the case, and I will do everything I can to reassure him and others that when we talk about the importance of education, it is not solely about academic education but all kinds of education in the broadest sense.

We know that there are many schools in the country that are delivering an education that we would all recognise as excellent. What is more, many of these are achieving excellence in areas of great disadvantage. Their pupils are going to our top universities. As my noble friend Lord Bates rightly argued, these are the beacons which show us what is possible with brilliant teaching, strong leadership and high aspiration—“great expectations” is a good phrase to stick in our minds. I believe that the answer to the question about university entrance lies in the schools, as my noble friend Lord Harris has demonstrated. I think he said that 90% of the children at one of his schools got an offer from a university this year.

Despite these beacons we also know—and we have to be honest about this—that too many children are far from enjoying an excellent standard of education. It is still the case that a third of pupils are leaving primary school not secure in reading, writing and mathematics. Some 250,000 children do not achieve five A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. We know that the UK has fallen back in the PISA rankings and yet this relative decline has happened at a time when performance at GCSE has risen year on year. If nothing else, this tells us there is something wrong with our exam system that we need to examine.

We also know, as noble Lords have mentioned, that poor children do disproportionately worse. Just over one-third of children on free school meals got five A* to C GCSE grades, including English and maths. Only 4% of children on free school meals achieved the English baccalaureate in 2011, compared to 17% for non free-school-meal pupils. Only 22% of pupils with SEN achieved five A* to C GCSE grades, including English and maths, in 2011. My noble friend Lord Addington was right to remind us of this group. So far as identification of SEN is concerned, a new code of practice is due to be published in 2014. Officials are working with interested parties on that, but I am happy to clarify that further and if he would like, I will set up a meeting for him with my officials.

We also know, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, reminded us, that across the country, black pupils in particular are not doing as well as they ought to be. Again, we heard from my noble friend Lord Harris that in many of his schools—which have a high concentration of black pupils who are, of course, well taught, motivated and supported from home—they are able to go on to achieve exactly as well as one would imagine that they would.

We know as well that, despite these problems, across the country brilliant things are being achieved by outstanding heads and inspiring teaching. There are more than 40 primaries across the country which have completely eliminated any attainment gap between rich and poor. At secondary level, schools like the Harris Academy in Bermondsey show us what can be done as well. There, 68% of pupils receive free school meals. Of those, 62% got their five A* to C GSCEs, including English and maths, against that national average of just over one-third.

We know as well that these results are not just some kind of one-off. Between 2010 and 2011, the results for ARK academies increased by 11% on average. Oasis—another chain—went up by 9.5%; ULT by 7.5%; and Harris by 13%. We have all heard many times in this House about the Mossbourne Academy. Last year, 82% of its pupils achieved 5 A* to C GCSEs; 10 of its pupils, I am glad to say, went off and received places at Cambridge University.

Across the board, performance in sponsored academies has improved at twice the rate of maintained schools, and the longer that academies are open, the better on average they do. So we know what can be achieved. The question which has properly been posed today is: what can Government do so that excellence can be spread more widely? I just want to touch on five main themes of the Government’s approach. They are: extending autonomy, improving accountability, tackling underperformance, restoring rigour to qualifications and, most importantly—because I accept fully that structural change cannot achieve anything without good people, as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, reminded us—raising the quality of heads and the teaching profession more generally.

In introducing the academies programme, the last Government rightly recognised that greater autonomy helps to raise educational performance. We have taken that principle and developed it, trying to extend the space in which professionals can make their own decisions—what my noble friend Lady Perry rightly called “extending trust”.

I agree strongly with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, about resisting pressure to stick more things in the national curriculum because we do not dare quite trust the professionals. I also agree with what my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft said about the importance of trusting professionals to care for children in the round and, particularly, the importance of policies to make it easier for teachers to address issues to do with behaviour.

The response from governing bodies and heads to the opportunity to become academies has been overwhelming. There are nearly 2,400 open academies in England. More than 55% of all secondary schools in England are either open as academies or this is in the pipeline. The vast majority of those have chosen to do this, which shows the appetite within the system and the profession for greater independence. I think that that partly addresses the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford. More and more of those academies are joining together to help raise performance in other schools. They are forming clusters to share good practice to support each other. There are more than 300 different chains and the fastest-growing group of new academy sponsors working to raise standards are outstanding schools which have converted to academies.

Alongside academies we have free schools, including independent schools coming into the maintained sector, UTCs and studio schools. Some people said that no one would want to take up the challenge of opening new schools. I think that they underestimated the passion of teachers and local groups to help children. One of my favourite examples is Cuckoo Hall in Enfield where, this year, 94% of pupils achieved level 4 in English and Maths. Its outstanding head turned around a failing school a few years ago. In the past two years she has opened two new primary free schools in the same area, where there is a big pressure on basic need, and she is now planning to open a secondary school.

As has already been argued, greater autonomy has to go hand in hand with greater accountability. Part of the way in which we have been doing that is through publishing more data so that parents and others can see for themselves how schools are doing. I am happy to talk to my noble friend Lord Lucas about his ideas. My noble friend Lady Brinton talked about the importance of comparable information between different kinds of institution. I agree with her about that. If we are trying to get to a situation where parents and students are able to make choices, they need to be able to do so on the basis of comparable data. We are committed to developing the destination measures, which I think she mentioned, and I would be happy to get someone to update her precisely on where we have got to on that. It has also partly been about more data, as well as through revising our inspection arrangements. The new performance tables had four times as much data as in the past and last year. Importantly, they showed not just attainment but the progress of pupils in different prior attainment groups.

Ofsted’s new framework will also help us to raise the bar. It not only focuses on the four core elements of a successful school; it puts all schools that are currently no better than satisfactory on notice that they need to work hard to improve. Schools that do not show that improvement will be subject to more frequent inspections and potentially moved into special measures.

We have also been looking at the whole question of governance, which is an area that merits more study. We have been trying to make governors’ lives easier to free them up to concentrate on key strategic decisions because the governing body of a school has a vital role in terms of accountability. We are making it easier for them to recruit governors on the basis of skills. We also introduced a new scheme for national leaders of governance modelled on the very successful national leaders of education, which we hope to double next year.

There has been some discussion already about changes to the curriculum and qualifications. I believe that if employers are not confident in the value of qualifications or they complain about standards of literacy and numeracy, and if we have universities which question the depth of knowledge that our brightest children have compared with students coming to British universities from overseas, we cannot pretend that all is well.

Something that worried us early on was the sharp fall in the number of children taking modern foreign languages, history or geography at GCSE. The percentage taking modern foreign languages had fallen from 76% to 43% between 2002 and 2010. The number taking history fell from 32% to 31% and those taking geography fell to 26%. That was the background to our announcement that we would introduce the new performance measure, the EBacc, which would show the percentage of pupils getting GCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, history or geography and a modern foreign language. We chose those subjects because we think that they best equip young people to apply to the good universities.

So far, it seems to have had an effect. Compared to the 22% who took EBacc subjects in 2011, we estimate that 46% will be studying them in 2013 and 49% by 2014. That, interestingly, would take us back to a striking figure because in 1997, about 50% of pupils were studying what we now classify as the EBacc subjects.

I very much agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, about the importance of subjects and activities other than the EBacc. That is one of the reasons why, by restricting them to a core, we hope to leave space for other subjects—including important areas such as design, for example, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker.

We are consulting on the introduction of a new qualification to replace GCSEs in each of the core academic subjects that make up the English baccalaureate. We will end the competition between different exam boards which has led to a race to the bottom, a move which has been generally welcomed. We will be holding a competition to identify the most ambitious qualifications, benchmarked to the world’s best and offered by a single awarding organisation.

On the specific issue about RE raised by the right reverend Prelate and also by my noble friend Lady Perry, I understand the point. I am glad to say that the numbers taking RE at GCSE increased by 7.7% this year, after increasing by 10% last year. Although I know that there are practical concerns, there has not been a falling off of young people wanting to study RE. Indeed, the opposite is true.

We also want to make sure that A-levels are rigorous and challenging, compare to the best qualifications in the world and command the respect of our leading universities. We want universities to have a greater role in their design and development. Ofqual has consulted on changes to A-levels and is considering next steps. No decisions have yet been taken but I noted the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Broers. I also agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, said about the importance of coherence when we look at qualifications and exam systems.

Alison Wolf’s review of vocational education found that between a quarter and a third of 16 to 19 year-olds were on courses which led children into dead-ends. I know that her recommendations for raising the quality of vocational qualifications were broadly welcomed across the House at the time. I was grateful for the comments made by my noble friend Lord Lingfield about the importance of further education.

We have seen a rapid growth in the size of the apprenticeship programme, which has grown from 240,000 to 450,000, but we must work to improve the quality of those apprenticeships, which we will do through a review into standards led by employers. We are delivering high-quality technical education through the new university technical colleges, of which my noble friend Lord Baker spoke with his customary passion. Two years ago there was one UTC open. By 2014, we expect to have more than 30. I have the figure of 90 ringing in my ears, as well as my noble friend’s almost daily exhortation to go further faster.

I was interested in the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber about how we can dramatise the importance of practical and technical skills better. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Brinton for telling the House how many ways of doing that are under way. However, that is an issue that a number of noble Lords probably would like to discuss between themselves further.

Alongside UTCs, studio schools have also been developing at pace. Two years ago, there were just two and today there are 16. By next September, I hope that we will double that again. These schools bridge the worlds of work and school, providing a vocational alternative alongside good academic qualifications and offering high-quality work experience which is paid for after the age of 16.

I have to say to my noble friend Lady Buscombe that these schools are full of confident, well presented children who are keen to get on. I support the work of the charity Springboard, which she and my noble friend Lord Lexden mentioned. I applaud the work he referred to as regards trying to bring about closer co-operation between the independent and maintained sectors.

The pupil premium has an important role to play in tackling underperformance. As regards how that is working so far, the recent study by Ofsted was a snapshot. We will get the full report next year. From this September schools will have to publish how they are spending that money. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, that it is important to demonstrate the value of the pupil premium. However, in approaching that, it is also important that we do not clog up the system too much with reintroducing a new layer of prescription. We want schools to work out how best to spend it but also to share good practice widely.

My noble friend Lady Walmsley, among others, talked about the importance of the early years. I will reflect on the points that she made. In tackling underperformance, we have accelerated the focus that we have placed on underperformance in primary schools, building on the work of the previous Government on secondary schools. As regards the quality of the profession, our goal is a self-supporting and self-improving system where schools learn from outstanding schools and heads and where outstanding teachers spread good practice. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Lucas said about the importance of this. That is why we are creating a national network of teaching schools to improve the capacity for schools to take the lead in the training and development of teachers, building up to 500 of those by 2014-15.

We are increasing the numbers of national leaders of education to 1,000 by 2015. We are supporting Teach First, a brilliant innovation which came about under the previous Government, to expand to 1,500 trainees in 2014-15. We are expanding the Future Leaders and Teaching Leaders programmes to develop many more potential leaders of the future. We are raising the bar on entry to the profession. We are paying bursaries of up to £20,000 to attract the best graduates into the teaching profession, especially into the important shortage subjects such as physics and other science subjects which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. I was also interested to hear the remarks he made about the role that universities can play in helping to address some of these issues.

All of us who visit schools know that it is inspiring heads and teachers with high expectations for their children who aim for and achieve excellence. We are seeking to support them by increasing their professional freedom, improving accountability, refocusing inspection, reforming qualifications and encouraging more great people—

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I appreciate that he has to get through his prepared speech, but I should point to his absence of reference to the fact that Alan Milburn has recommended that the Government reverse their policy on the abolition of the education maintenance allowance. Alan Milburn stated that that creates a difficulty in terms of,

“helping poorer 16- to 17-year-olds stay on at school”.

What about that group?

I hope that I addressed the main point raised by Mr Milburn. The route to getting more children from disadvantaged backgrounds into university is through schools. I think a number of people have accepted that the cost of the EMA—the best part of £560 million—was not sustainable. It was going to 40% of children but was originally intended to be targeted on a smaller group. The replacement that we have put in place is sufficient to pay a comparable sum to all the children who are in receipt of free school meals.

In conclusion, I know that there is a long way to go. I hope there is no complacency or what one noble Lord referred to as a self-congratulatory tone, but I believe that excellent schools are showing us the way forward, and I believe that the building blocks for further progress are in place.

My Lords, it is customary on these occasions to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate but I have far more reasons than custom in saying a very heartfelt thank you to all noble Lords who have taken part today. This has been a really fascinating debate and inspiring and moving in many cases. It vividly demonstrates the huge range of expert knowledge that we have in this House. We have ranged from early years to universities via almost every aspect of education through many different kinds of schools. There have been pleas for science, the arts and history, all of which were made with real knowledge and experience as well as deep passion. It has been a huge privilege to listen to all the speeches today. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber will carry on with his excellent and exciting proposal to give real recognition to those who are not very academically successful but are hugely successful in their crafts and technician roles.

Motion agreed.

Antarctica: Centenary of Scott Expedition

Motion to Take Note

Moved By

That this House takes note of the centenary of the Scott expedition to Antarctica and of the United Kingdom’s enduring scientific legacy and ongoing presence there.

My Lords, the inspiration for this debate came from a visit to the Natural History Museum earlier this year. I went in the company of many of your Lordships to view the special exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole. The Natural History Museum must be congratulated on the excellence of its exhibition and on the insight it gave us and doubtless the countless others who have since visited it into the conditions experienced by the members of the expedition down to the nutritious Huntley and Palmer biscuits.

It was just such a visit to New Zealand’s International Antarctic Trust Centre in Christchurch some years ago that made me determined to visit Antarctica myself. I have had the privilege of sailing through the Weddell Sea, seeing up close the icebergs in all their variety and observing rockhoppers, Magellanic and chinstrap penguins and their nesting habits. On that occasion I also visited the Argentine and Chilean research centres and learnt about the international co-operation and, indeed, competition that goes on.

This centenary year has boosted interest in Antarctica and reminded us of the exploits of the expedition through a variety of special exhibitions and events up and down the country, newspaper articles and some excellent radio and TV programmes and by the memorable commemorative service at St Paul’s Cathedral in March. In the recent past, awareness of our heritage in Antarctica has also been raised by the successful campaign to save the Scott and Shackleton huts. In mentioning that name, I cannot but regret that the late Lord Shackleton is not here with us today to add his knowledge and enthusiasm to the debate. The focus of the International Polar Year 2007-08 and the Scott 100 Plymouth conference last year, not to mention the ongoing activities of the British Antarctic Survey and other specialised organisations, about which more anon, has all served to draw attention to the unique continent of Antarctica and to our presence and role there.

Others have been inspired to follow the example of Scott and his party and to push themselves to the limits of human endurance by venturing to find new ways of reaching the pole, I have in mind in particular Felicity Aston, who spent 56 days crossing Antarctica on skis and returned recently to tell the tale at the Royal Geographical Society. I think and hope that we will hear other examples of that sort of courage in the course of this debate.

Every schoolchild of my generation was brought up on great heroes of the past, and the valiant attempt by Scott and his team to be the first to reach the South Pole gave an outstanding example of human endurance and courage. We can only be glad that he wrote so much down in his diaries, leaving a lasting message for posterity. In these days of instant communication, it is for us almost impossible to comprehend how cut off the expedition was and must have felt. I find it amazing to consider, for example, that the deaths of Scott and his companions actually occurred before the “Titanic” sank but of course were not known about until well after.

Another fact I had not appreciated before is that after Amundsen and Scott reached the South Pole in 1912, no one made the attempt again for nearly 50 years. When they did, they returned not with ships, sledges and dogs but with airplanes and radio communication.

It has been said that the burden of the scientific side jeopardised the chances of reaching the pole first, but it appears that Scott treated scientific discovery and reaching the pole as more or less equal priorities. It was very much in the spirit of his times to show that man could conquer virtually everything. The lasting scientific achievements of that race to the South Pole include the foundations of the study of glaciology and the theory of continental drift.

Amazingly and in spite of the conditions, but again in line with the practice of the time of collecting and identifying specimens, Scott’s expedition left examples of some 2,109 animals and fish, 401 of which had never been seen before. It also produced a huge number of rock samples, plant fossils and the famous emperor penguin eggs. The fact that three of the team spent five weeks trekking to Cape Crozier to witness the emperor penguins incubating their eggs in sub-zero temperatures—minus 75 degrees Fahrenheit—is proof of their scientific zeal. It has to be remembered that this took place only some 50 years after Darwin’s theory on the evolution of species had been published. At the time it was thought that the eggs might prove to be the missing evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds. That was proved not to be so, but at least those men could claim to be the first and only men to witness that marvel of the natural world.

Nowadays we see these scenes on our television screens accompanied by the reassuring tones of David Attenborough, and it is hard to imagine what it must have been like to journey into the unknown with no means of communication. There are of course parallels now with the exploration of space in terms of journeys into the unknown, but it is the total cut-off from communication with the rest of the world that underlines the sheer bravery and fortitude of these men 100 years ago. Scott’s scientific legacy is ongoing, and in this centenary year we have still to see the international Scott centenary expedition, which is due to retrace Scott’s steps and includes some of the descendants of the original shore party but that will also carry out cutting-edge experiments of its own. I understand that the British Services Antarctic Expedition has also been in the peninsula since January, carrying out scientific and exploration work. Thanks to the BBC’s life scientific program, I am aware that Martin Siegert is even now fulfilling a long-term project to research lichen in a sub-glacial lake under three kilometres of ice, this being part of the British Antarctic Survey programme.

This brings me to the very topical subject of our ongoing presence in Antarctica and the institutions that support it. It has been said that the Scott Polar Research Institute, which was founded in 1920 and which houses the greatest polar library in the world, is the expedition’s greatest scientific legacy. It was certainly set up as a memorial to Captain Scott and his four companions who died. I understand that it was originally financed by surplus donations to the fund for the expedition’s widows and orphans, and is now in part funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

However, it is the British Antarctic Survey that is the UK’s national Antarctic operator. For the past 60 years it has been responsible for most of the UK’s scientific research in Antarctica, and indeed in the Arctic, and it has gained national and international respect and recognition for its work. The British Antarctic Survey is based in Cambridge. It operates five research stations, two royal research ships and five aircraft. It is world renowned for its extensive research programmes and provides a vital focus for international co-operation and co-ordination. It was BAS that first raised global concern over the depletion of the ozone layer, and indeed many Members of your Lordships’ House, like me, will have appreciated our regular visits to its Cambridge headquarters for briefings from experts in their fields.

It was therefore a shock when in June this year the research council announced that it was considering a merger between the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. There appeared to be grounds to believe that this would mean a closure of the Cambridge headquarters and the concentration of the merged body in Southampton. As a consequence, the director and deputy director have resigned, fur has been flying, press comment abounds and even former Vice-President Al Gore has waded in to attack the plan. A consultation document was issued in September, the consultation closed on 10 October and its findings are due to be reported in December, so that will be a matter of great interest.

Can the Minister give us any reassurance about the future of the British Antarctic Survey? Are the fears that this is the first step in winding down research at the poles justified? What significance is there for the Falkland Islands and other British territories in the South Atlantic if there is a reduced British presence in Antarctica? When are the Government going to introduce, or rather reintroduce, an Antarctic scientific strategy, given that the current five-year rolling programme has lapsed?

As a non-scientist but a very interested observer, I look forward to the contributions to come from all those who are to speak. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have put their names down, many of whom are much more expert than I am. I also look forward to the Minister’s reply. In celebrating the courage and determination of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his team, I hope that in the few hours of this debate we can help to ensure that their legacy is safeguarded and that the bounds of knowledge will continue to expand. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on securing this most timely and important debate.

Much has changed in the 100 years since Scott and Shackleton’s epic journey to the South Pole. In 1912 the polar regions were an unknown wilderness, a hostile environment that thwarted man’s efforts to conquer it. We now know much more about these unique features of our planet and have a much greater understanding of their importance and how human activities are impacting them, largely thanks to the work of the British Antarctic Survey.

The year 2012 may be remembered not just as the centenary of Scott’s epic achievement but as the year in which the polar sea ice melted at such an alarming rate that the scientists studying it began using phrases like “shocking”, “staggering” and “scary”. Predictions about the rate at which the warming of our world would lead to losses of Arctic ice have been proven woefully optimistic; the pace of change is far faster than models predicted and the impacts of climate change are happening far sooner than we had thought.

In that context, the work of scientists at the British Antarctic Survey should be being praised, encouraged and supported. It is they who have been monitoring the west Antarctic ice sheet, which is suspected to be dangerously unstable and which over time could ultimately lead to a rise in sea levels of more than three metres if it collapsed. Instead, I find it absolutely astounding that BAS should have recently lost its director and now be facing a poorly thought-through merger for which no clear business case appears to have been provided.

I have been investigating the background to these proposals and have been told that NERC’s initial proposal was to inflict swingeing cuts on BAS, but the ring-fenced funding arrangement put in place by the Foreign Office effectively stopped this, on the basis that BAS provides an important strategic presence in the South Atlantic. This so infuriated NERC that it in effect sacked the then director and came up with another plan to cut BAS down to size by merging it with the National Oceanography Centre. I wonder why NERC is pursuing a campaign against BAS. What has it done to deserve the threat of dissolution? BAS’s history of world-leading science does us proud, and it has produced many important findings of global significance, not least the discovery of the ozone hole by BAS scientist Joe Farman.

The consultation on the proposals closed last week, but many experts will have been loath to comment, given that NERC essentially holds the purse strings for many of them. To step out of line and criticise could mean funding being withheld. As if to add insult to injury, the documents setting out the vision for the proposed merged organisation illustrate a marked departure from the principles currently embodied by BAS. Instead of focusing on the pursuit of pure science, the emphasis is to be on the national interest, the UK economy and the derisking of investment in the polar regions.

At times, I have the sense that I have stepped through the looking glass into the surreal world of Alice in Wonderland precisely when science is telling us that the burning of fossil fuels is having a far faster and more dramatic effect on our global ecosystem than we could have predicted, and that our scientific institutions are being co-opted to assist in the extraction of ever more fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels unabated should now be viewed as a reckless, immoral act. Our generation’s challenge is to rid ourselves of this dangerous addiction and to leave the reserves in the ground, if necessary, not to support the discovery of more. Faced with a raging inferno, we should not be asking our firefighters to help pile on more wood.

What a squalid period of history we are living through if pure scientific endeavour is not deemed in and of itself worth while and where scientific institutions must be harnessed to further commercial interests. The people behind this vision statement ought to be embarrassed. NERC must be urged to reconsider, and I hope that the Government would, if necessary, intervene to restore confidence in BAS and its scientists.

With each passing year, it becomes clear that human society is on a collision course with nature, and there will be huge repercussions. Explorers such as Scott and his men embody the human drive to increase our understanding and extend our dominion. However, there are some forces too powerful for us to conquer and control. During this debate, I ask that we reflect not just on Scott’s bravery and the UK’s undisputed scientific achievements but on human frailty, for that is an important part of this story. Continuing on the collision course with nature that we are now on imperils the lives of millions of people alive today and billions of people yet to be born. If our polar regions do not survive, neither will society as we know it. In this centenary year, we must protect and enhance our scientific capacities in the polar regions, and this means retaining BAS as a centre of excellence.

Perhaps I may humbly suggest that if reforms are needed, let us start with a review of NERC itself, because in this instance it appears to be acting as an extremely poor and short-sighted guardian of our world-leading scientific institutions.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on securing this debate. Inevitably much of it will focus on NERC’s proposals for the future of BAS, so I will confine my remarks accordingly. In so doing, I must declare an interest as a council member for NERC, so I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for her warm comments.

The proposals to bring together BAS and NOC is exactly that—a proposal. It is not a done deal, and I wish to assure the House that the proposal and the responses to the consultation will be scrutinised by an independent academic before any firm proposal comes to the council in December.

Let me try to explain NERC’s thinking. First, let me make clear what is not being proposed. There is no proposal to close the BAS centre in Cambridge or the oceanographic centres in Southampton or Liverpool, or to close the bases at Rothera, Halley or Signy in Antarctica, or Bird Island or King Edward Point on South Georgia. Nor is there any attempt by the FCO or indeed NERC to abandon the region to the Argentineans, although we understand the sensitivities. Nor is there any proposal to reduce the size or capability of the fleet or aircraft. Nor is there any attempt to reduce the overall expenditure in Antarctic science during the current CSR, despite the 3% reduction in NERC’s budget; BAS has received a £42 million flat cash settlement for the whole period. Nor is there any attempt to reduce the number of scientists or current scientific programmes. Nor is there any attempt to reduce access to Antarctica for our universities, which, by the way, contribute well over 50% of the current polar research portfolio. It is important to put that on the record before we begin the debate.

So what challenges is NERC trying to wrestle with? Let me highlight two. First, NERC, like the other research councils, with the exception of the Medical Research Council, is having to make savings—in our case, around 3%. Our budget was reduced in real terms for Antarctica by about £9 million, and we estimate that by 2015 the cost of our major infrastructure will have increased by about £7 million. Put simply, running ships and aircraft, essential for delivering polar science, is an extremely costly business.

As a result, there is growing pressure on the amount of science that we can do. That leads to the inescapable logic that without a new major source of income—and no one is suggesting that there is—we will do less and less science as our infrastructure costs continue to increase. In effect, the status quo means NERC reducing world-class science elsewhere in its portfolio to maintain an open-ended, ever-increasing subsidy to BAS. Is that what your Lordships support?

We believe that there are logistical and administrative savings to be had by bringing the infrastructure of two similar organisations together. However, for NERC, simply looking for greater organisational symmetry would not justify a merger. There has to be a compelling argument that the merger will enhance opportunities for world-class environmental science.

So let me come to the second reason. Over the past three decades, NERC has pursued its strategic marine and polar science missions separately with BAS and NOC, and both have retained distinct scientific and geographic loci. Conversely, our scientific understanding has, over the same period, brought into sharp focus that the earth is a closely coupled system. In particular, the coupling between the oceans and the cryosphere is tight in the polar regions, which are the source of the deep water that forms one leg of the thermohaline circulation that in turn effects the global climate. This greater understanding of the ocean and its role in climate change is revealing problems of great scale and complexity. For example, the role of the Antarctic circumpolar current in supplying warm water to the Antarctic ice sheet base, with its consequent melting of the ice sheet into the ocean, is of massive concern to scientists. Likewise, as the Arctic sea ice melts, the altered circulation and redistribution of heat and fresh water in the Arctic Ocean, and its exchanges with the north Atlantic, is a massive cause for concern for us in the United Kingdom.

These are but two challenges that directly link polar and ocean science. It is self-evident that NERC as a world leader in environment research should seek to combine its marine and polar strategic science to maintain a world-class capability when dealing with problems of this size and scale. That is what the proposal is about. It is not about wrecking things but about building things for the future. If noble Lords disagree with NERC’s proposals, one should at least respond to these two significant challenges on the cost and the science, and provide some compelling evidence that the status quo offers a better way of resolving both.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for introducing a debate that is as important to our scientific future as it is to our heritage. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will forgive me if I do not follow him specifically on the question of NERC. I shall come to that at the end of my speech.

I am speaking not with my English Heritage hat on, for once, but out of a personal conviction for the importance of polar heritage and polar science. I want to talk about a specific aspect. The extraordinary history of British Antarctic exploration—and it was British until 1914—involves the great race to the South Pole. The imagery of Scott’s fatal expedition of 1910-12 continues to haunt our imagination. Of all the images we have of that expedition, so well captured in the exhibition in the Natural History Museum, none are more evocative or poignant than the pictures of the interior of the prefabricated expedition hut—to which Scott and his companions did not return.

In 2002, under the leadership of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project was begun, to care for the four surviving huts in the region and their artefacts. I recently spoke to Dr Nigel Watson of the trust about the progress that has been made on conserving the huts, which has lessons for science and conservation around the world.

Working with heritage specialists from around the world, including our own UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, a four-year programme of work on Ernest Skackleton’s only Antarctic base has been completed with more than 6,000 objects conserved, and a five-year programme to save Captain Scott’s last expedition building is completed. A programme of conservation of the collection continues with more than 7,000 objects from the site conserved—everything from Tate sugar cubes to tomato ketchup, books, newspapers and scientific instruments.

This is the science of conservation under extraordinary conditions. Last winter, for example, the Bowers Annex, made up of provision boxes, was excavated from underneath an estimated 100 cubic metres of ice and snow. Sixty-five metres of ice has been removed from beneath the main floor. The internal space of the original bulkhead has been revealed and a more historically accurate layout clearly shows the division between the officers, the scientists and the men. Even in cramped conditions on the other side of the world, British naval social structures were maintained. Therefore, we have social as well as scientific history on show, and Captain Oates’s bunk has been restored. In a recent blog, one conservator wrote:

“Stepping into the hut is always a powerful moment: it is quite dark inside at this time of year … A prescient silence also fills the hut, and there is a great sense of stillness”.

Others have spoken of a tangible feeling of sadness.

Why does all this matter? These huts are not tourist opportunities. They are not even for Antarctic tourists. We do it because these fragile buildings are not just a lasting witness to the human spirit; they represent enduring values of courage and the restless search for knowledge and the universality of science.

Thanks to the efforts of the New Zealand Government in providing and raising funding, 80% of the £8 million needed has been found, much of it from British sources, but another £1.5 million is needed. English Heritage has no power, unlike some of our counterparts overseas, to invest in the conservation of monuments which lie outside our physical boundaries; nor, I understand, does the Heritage Lottery Fund. The World Monuments Fund has, however, provided welcome support. The Norwegian Government have recently pledged funding for the Norwegian hut at Cape Adare, as have the Australian Government for Mawson’s huts at Cape Denison commemorating the Australian expedition of 1911-13. There is therefore an international commitment to a scientific legacy which belongs to everyone—to a continent of knowledge which, uniquely, is governed by international treaty in the interests of the whole world and whose heritage belongs to the whole world.

A few years ago, my intrepid predecessor at English Heritage, Sir Neil Cossons, persuaded the then Government, following a visit to the huts, to provide a very modest £250,000 to support the conservation of the British huts. I am now asking this Minister to persuade her colleagues in the Treasury to do what other countries have done to care for their scientific heritage and to provide a small contribution, in this year of all years, as a lasting memorial to complete the conservation of the huts. This is the year to do it and I am sure that noble Lords will support me in that.

The scientific legacy of polar exploration, so well described by my noble friend Lady Worthington and the noble Lord, Lord Willis, cannot be overestimated. It could not be more salient. I am sure that the Minister will listen very hard to the case that is being made for Antarctic and polar research not to be compromised. The Antarctic is literally the frontier of knowledge. It is there that we will learn most and earliest about the fate of the climate and of the globe. The BAS is at the forefront of that research and its work must not be put at risk. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will listen very hard and give some reassurances about the implications of doing so.

I conclude by again thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for the comprehensive way in which she introduced the debate and for the opportunity that we have had to recognise, celebrate and think ahead about what we expect from the scientific research.

My Lords, I, too, express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for providing this opportunity to reflect on the profound changes that are mooted for British Antarctic science.

I should declare my interests. For five years I chaired the international review panel for British Antarctic Survey research and on two occasions visited the BAS base on the Antarctic Peninsula. I have also worked at sea with the National Institute of Oceanography, a predecessor of the present National Oceanographic Centre, with which the Natural Environment Research Council proposes to merge BAS. I also worked for five years in the MoD and was briefly the director of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

NERC has indicated that during the present spending period the merged BAS footprint will not be reduced. But what does that mean? If NOC and BAS were merged, it would be almost impossible to determine what had happened to the BAS budget.

First, I shall say a word about polar science. Our poles are very different: the North Pole lies in an ocean surrounded by continents; the South Pole lies in a continent surrounded by oceans. In the Arctic, for the international community, it is largely a matter of ocean-going ships, because the surrounding nations jealously protect their shelf seas. In the Antarctic, BAS studies both continent and surrounding oceans together.

Doing that work safely in a very hostile environment is one of the unique BAS skills that supports both its own research and that of British universities—research ranging from studies of the ionosphere to “life on the edge”; studies of how organisms, fish, birds, plants and other animals cope with the extreme Antarctic climate; and studies of the behaviour of continental ice sheets, as well as understanding past climates by drilling deep ice-cores. Working in the Antarctic is much more expensive than elsewhere. However, as with particle physics or space exploration, if the observations cannot be made any other way, we have to pay what it costs.

Not only is BAS science diverse but it is good. Looking back at some of the reports of my review committee, the international members were astonished by the interdisciplinary collaboration that BAS achieved and the distinction of much of its output. A 2007 Indian survey showed BAS to be the most productive institution in the world for Antarctic science.

On the diplomatic front, at meetings of the Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty, more working papers have been prepared by the UK—that is, the FCO and BAS together—than any other country. Under successive directors, BAS has achieved an enviable international reputation.

I think that I have a reasonable understanding of the work of both NOC and BAS, and I see little scope for savings or synergies beyond their current close collaboration in the southern oceans—a conclusion, incidentally, confirmed by a number of reviews, most recently in 2012.

Finally, we should remember the dire consequences of a seemingly trivial decision to reduce our South Atlantic naval presence some years ago. In the shadows between UK diplomacy and local South American politics, where every trivial action is minutely scrutinised, analysed and reanalysed, are we in danger yet again of inadvertently sending the wrong signals? The UK’s presence in the Antarctic, the Falklands and South Georgia is supported by a strong science-backed position at negotiations surrounding the Antarctic Treaty. Maintaining a footprint—whatever that means—without a clear and demonstrable commitment to Antarctic science is simply not credible. Are we seeing a decision again made at the wrong level by officials who do not see the whole picture—a decision not only threatening the science but endangering our position in the South Atlantic?

The question is: what now? The apparently engineered loss of senior staff at BAS has weakened the organisation, severely damaged morale and made it vulnerable. It is hard to see how the proposed merger will either protect the science or send the right diplomatic signals. Antarctic science is expensive but, by comparison with the cost of maintaining a garrison in the Falklands, let alone the cost of mounting even a small military operation, the cost of the science is almost imperceptible.

National interests, both diplomatic and scientific, appear to be at risk. I suggest that Ministers from the FCO, BIS and the MoD urgently set up an independent working group to propose a way forward before Christmas. I hope that Ministers will listen.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving us the opportunity to discuss not only the centenary, to which she gave great tribute, but, as she put it, an emotionally enduring scientific legacy and ongoing presence of the UK in Antarctica. It is not surprising that so far almost the whole debate has turned on the proposed merger of BAS with the NOC.

As noble Lords well know, I am no scientist and will not be able to compete with those who have spoken from a very close scientific background, but in this context my attention is drawn to a compelling response to the consultation by Sir Martin Holdgate, opposing the proposal. I mention this because Sir Martin was the chief scientist at the Department for the Environment when I was Secretary of State. I quickly realised that he was a man of enormous ability, integrity and experience, and it was he who had to advise me as to our response to the BAS identification of the thinning of the ozone layer. There have been many other distinguished achievements, not least the discovery of 800,000 years of environmental history through the use of ice cores. That is perhaps one of the most significant advances in the study of climate and climate change. It is not surprising that Eric Wolff was rewarded for that by membership as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

I am in no doubt, as others have said, that BAS has a very long and well deserved international reputation for science at the highest professional level. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, said. I listened to my noble friend Lord Willis with great interest. I have great respect for him but one has to weigh what he said against not only Sir Martin Holdgate but a number of other very reputable commentators who have opposed this measure. Sir Martin’s strong objections rest on three fundamental reasons. He argues first that the suggested synergies between polar science and marine science are far less than the differences between them. My noble friend made some emphasis on the synergy but the differences are much greater. Secondly, Sir Martin identified what he calls the quasi-political nature of NERC’s arguments and, more importantly, the questions that the consultation leaves unanswered. He asked,

“how the proposed merger will serve the world community better than the maintenance of two separate, efficient and highly regarded institutes”.

Thirdly, Sir Martin was very concerned that neither the scientific nor the economic case is evident from the consultation document. In particular, it does not contain any figures to suggest what saving the synergy is likely to produce. He describes it as a “piece of breath-taking deviousness”. Sir Martin Holdgate is not a man given to exaggerated worries without cause. Those responsible need to pay particular attention to that.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, is my noble friend Lord Willis right to say that this is not yet a done deal? In that context can we be assured that not only NERC but Ministers will pay very close attention to the several authoritative objections to the proposals put forward by NERC? It is hugely important that this is not just a decision for the research council. Secondly, what is the reaction of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to this? My noble friend is perhaps better able to answer that question given her present position. The presence of the BAS and other bodies in the South Atlantic has been recognised as clear and compelling evidence of the British concern with the whole of the South Atlantic. Any suggestion that this will be watered down or in some way diluted will send the appallingly wrong message to those who are anxious for our departure. This is almost the most important decisions of all and it should not be taken by a research council; it should be a decision firmly taken by Ministers who are accountable to Parliament.

My Lords, I welcome this debate and declare my interest as a former member of a BAS advisory committee and a collaborator on scientific projects when I have been at the NERC-supported Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London.

Scott’s Terra Nova expedition leads us to extraordinary stories of bravery and selflessness, especially on the return trek, and has inspired generations. It also led to Shackleton’s expedition a year or so later. Remarkable literature has come out of those expeditions and extraordinary photography. Recently, Arctic research has also led to interesting music. When I was a governor of a primary school in Cambridge, one of the prospective candidates for head said that for 20 minutes every day he would read to the students from Scott. We thought that that was a bit over the top so he did not get the job, but we understand the sort of extraordinary affection there is for Scott’s writing.

I note that Amundsen has not been mentioned recently. He reached the Pole just in front of Scott. The Norwegian Prime Minister was there recently, but I do not believe that our Prime Minister has been there. Amundsen generously admitted that the Scott expedition contributed much more to science—notably geology and biology. One of the biologists, Dr Wilson, was on the last party. Meteorology was also mentioned. A former director of the Met Office, G C Simpson, was there studying air currents and introducing new instrumentation for solar radiation. The lasting contribution of the expedition was to show the importance scientifically of polar regions. The UK has taken a lead in this through research institutes and universities, BAS, NOC and, not to be forgotten, SAMS in Scotland. Their work is co-ordinated and funded by NERC. Also, extraordinary international co-operation is co-ordinated through the Antarctic Treaty and its scientific committee, SCAR, on which the directors of BAS have often sat.

Recognition of the impact on global science and technology of observations in the Antarctic come with four or five great developments. First, what impressed me in the 1960s was the work of Rachel Carson in her famous book Silent Spring and the fact that DDT was found in the seals and birds of the Antarctic, showing an extraordinary circulation around the world. Secondly, the observation of the polar regions from the moon in the 1960s was an extraordinary sight. We had our blue planet with white caps on either side. Thirdly, the importance of Antarctic weather began to be recognised in the 1970s and 1980s. Good measures of Antarctic weather from weather stations all around the Antarctic enabled us to make global weather predictions. BAS contributes to that, as do other countries such as Argentina and Australia.

Fourthly, in the 1980s the upper air currents swirling around the Antarctic were understood, so it was not a great surprise, at least to a fluid dynamicist, when Joe Farmer at BAS found that extraordinary cauldron of swirling flow, enabling chemistry to take place there, isolated from the rest of the world. The chemicals in this cauldron were chlorofluoride carbons from refrigerators and the reactions led to the damaging loss of ozone in the stratosphere. Subsequently that was verified by the US satellite measurements. The fifth global impact was the role of polar science using computational modelling to enable us to use the results of the ice cores and radar satellite measurements to look at climates and geology going back in time, and also to make predictions about the dangerous phenomena mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, in her report.

Looking forward, we should be thinking not only about research but of educational projects in and around the Antarctic. I am privileged to be involved in a project to reconstruct the wooden vessel of the “Beagle” based in Chile, which will enable students and university people to go round those southern waters. Indeed, the surveying of those waters off Cape Horn by FitzRoy are still used.

I have three quick points. The UK should establish a polar science centre for both the Arctic and the Antarctic which should be separate from but collaborative with NOC, as other noble Lords have mentioned. The international role of the NERC with regard to United Nations agencies and the UK Government, which is touched on in the report, needs to be reorganised. It should not, as suggested in the report, continue to be the responsibility only of the scientists and the centres. The NERC, of which I used to be a member, does not review the science advice given nationally and internationally by the NERC—or, at least, it used not to and I understand from recent directors of NERC that that has not been the case. My third point concerns the Antarctic Treaty and SCAR, which needs to extend its roles significantly to become responsible for public understanding and education about the Antarctic through international collaboration. That will be a long-term way of ensuring that the value of the Antarctic continues.

My Lords, I join with the congratulations that have been expressed for my noble friend Lady Hooper on securing this timely debate. It allows us to debate NERC’s plan to sabotage the British Antarctic Survey.

The objective of the merger with NOC is to save money in the longer term by reducing the scientific resources devoted to polar science and oceanography. About 18 BAS posts will go during the CSR period, depending on the salaries of the staff who leave, and this will already impair their ability to achieve their scientific objectives. Beyond that, the expected costs and savings arising from the merger are not identified in the consultation, as has been said, but are due to be revealed to the council in December. Can my noble friend say how many staff are actually in post now in BAS and NOC respectively; how many there will be at the end of the CSR period; and how many on completion of the merger? Without this information, the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which intends to assess the merits of the proposal, will be unable to do so.

Of course, NERC is in some difficulty because of the Treasury’s demands on it. Cutting the resources devoted to the environment is not the act of the greenest Government ever when there are other ways of balancing the books, such as taxes on the rich. Vandalising the nation’s research base should be ruled out altogether in the Government’s search for ways of reducing the deficit.

Will the Government pay attention to the advice against the merger, not only by Martin Holdgate, who was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Jenkin, but also by Jonathan Shanklin, one of the BAS scientists who discovered the hole in the ozone layer, who says it would create a comparable hole in British science? The RSPB, with its million members, deplores the threat of commercial development in the polar regions contrary to the Antarctic Treaty 1991 and the mission statement of the NOC.

With climate change already threatening the survival of millions we should be careful not to do anything that would impair the capacity of science to examine its causes. Recently, an enormous basin has been discovered below the west Antarctic ice sheet, the characteristics of which suggest that the risks of the whole sheet collapsing are greater than was previously thought. In the worst case scenario, the global sea level would rise by several metres, overwhelming the Thames flood barrier as well as many coastal regions. To design a new barrier it would essential to have reliable estimates of the rise in sea level over the following century. If we can no longer afford scientific work of the quality now being done by BAS scientists, how will Governments be able to make decisions that require the spending of tens of billions of pounds?

NERC wants the management of the marine infrastructure and logistics for polar and marine research to be undertaken by its Swindon office. Three ship reviews and one on marine engineering over the past 12 years have shown that merging these operations would generate no savings because the polar ships and their operations are fundamentally different from those of the blue water ships. As has been mentioned, the last review by a respected member of the NERC executive board was completed in the spring and gave detailed reasons against the merger. However, if, contrary to all expert advice, NERC insists on a merger of marine operations, then Cambridge should be the single location because, on its own analysis, the shore side management and engineering support in BAS is more effective than NOC’s, as demonstrated by the relative staffing numbers and the level of satisfaction recorded by scientists using the ships of the two organisations.

As mentioned by my noble friend Lord Willis, in 2011 NERC tried to close down the Signy research station, which is an excellent example of multinational co-operation, and also tried to scrap the polar ship “Ernest Shackleton”. The Government decided that that decision was wrong. They called it in and vetoed it then, and they should do the same for this merger now. If they cannot do that, they should at least tell NERC to do the arithmetic on BAS management of the marine infrastructure and publish it, together with the rest of the missing information, in time for it to be considered by the Select Committee.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on initiating this debate, which, in the light of what has been said, could have a real practical impact.

Scott is an iconic figure in British history. Like many such figures, he had feet of clay to some degree; his reputation waxed and then it waned; and now, in the light of a new definitive biography, it has waxed rightly again in recent years. All kinds of bric-à-brac about him and his colleagues on his final expedition have come to the surface recently. I like the story that has come to light of the depraved sexual activity of penguins, recorded by the medical officer, George Levick. It proved too outrageous to publish in its day. Far more racy than Fifty Shades of Grey, it was like fifty shades of black and white, and mostly black. It is not surprising that it was not published at the time. It was, however, strictly scientific and part of the scientific remit of the expedition.

I have spent the past several years studying climate change in an intensive way. On our maps, the Arctic and the Antarctic appear as the outer peripheries of the globe. In an era of accelerating climate change, however, they have become central to the dynamics of a warming world. Both are key laboratories for studying global warming. The warming seen in the Antarctic peninsula has been of the order of 3% over the past half-century, about 10 times the average rate of world temperature increase. Those figures come from the British Antarctic Survey, an organisation which, as other noble Lords have rightly said, is now threatened with extinction, at least as an independent entity. I am very perturbed about the proposed merger. Some of the points have been so well made by other noble Lords, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, that I will race through them fairly quickly, just as a penguin might do.

First, everyone recognises the need to cut costs, but the merger will not cut costs at all. This has been shown by other speakers and in independent reports. In my view, it will incur costs, especially if reputational damage is included. The UK, helped by the BAS, has played the dominant role in Antarctic legislation, something which has not been mentioned in the debate. Secondly, it is not just fundamental scientific work at stake. All work in the Antarctic and the proximate oceans now has major geopolitical relevance—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. What kind of signal will a contracted British presence send to other players in the region, especially the loss of the name of the organisation? Thirdly, all the former directors of BAS have expressed deep concern that safety may be compromised, which is really important in that environment. As one put it, “to run a serious and safe operation in the Antarctic and the dangerous waters of the Southern Ocean is not like running a travel agency or a bus company”. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, made the point very effectively. For these and other reasons, I urge that the proposed merger should be abandoned and other solutions explored.

My Lords, I have a particular reason for being grateful to my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving us this opportunity to mark Scott’s science heritage. When Scott set off across the Ross Ice Shelf, he named an area Cape Selborne after my great grandfather, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty—and of course this was on the “Discovery”, not the “Terra Nova”, and was a naval expedition. I am only too pleased, four generations later, to pay tribute to Scott on his expedition. For many years I was a trustee of the Oates Museum, and two years ago, at the invitation of BAS, I visited the Rothera Research Station. It was only a short visit, but one could not help but be deeply impressed and humbled not just by the science and the scientists, but by the other people who support the work. I mention the pilots of the Twin Otter aircraft, who are remarkable people, the plumbers and carpenters and, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, mentioned, the dedication to health and safety, which is an extraordinarily important issue.

Today’s debate invites us to look at the scientific legacy, so I have plucked three names from the past 100 years which encapsulate some of this heritage. The first is that of Professor Frank Debenham, who came back from the Antarctic and set up the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. Let us fast forward to the 1950s and to Sir Vivian Fuchs, director of the British Antarctic Survey, who set up many of the bases on the Antarctic Graham Peninsula and, of course, led the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. If we fast forward again to two months’ time, we have Sir Ran Fiennes who, in the tradition of the golden age, is to set off once again on an Antarctic crossing, this time during the winter.

Like everyone else, I now turn to the NERC consultation document. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willis, on posing to us the real challenge of what questions we should be asking. Although I do not agree that the merger is the only alternative, and he has said that it has not yet been resolved, I think that we have to come up with some positive proposals to solve the problem of ever-increasing logistical costs squeezing the science, which is not something that anyone wants. The opening paragraph of the consultation document talks about exploiting “scientific synergies” and the need for a “long term vision”, as well as how to support science,

“in the most cost-effective way”.

We would all agree with such sound sense, but where we part company is how to achieve those aspirations. Perhaps I should declare an interest as a past chairman of the NOC Advisory Council and the present chair of another NERC advisory group.

The proposals are set out in surprising detail considering that a consultation document is meant to look at first principles. It even gives us the name of the new centre: the NERC Centre for Marine and Polar Science. That name is not going to catch on. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has just pointed out, there is a reputational risk here since we will lose two good brands. I speak with some experience of this. When I chaired the Agricultural and Food Research Council in the 1980s, we had dramatic cuts forced on us, much greater than the pressures NERC is now facing. We decided to protect the “recognition of our investment”—as NERC puts it in its document—by labelling our institute with names like the “AFRC Institute of Arable Crops” and the “Institute for Grassland and Animal Research”. However, what happened was that BBSRC sensibly reverted to John Innes, Rothamsted and Babraham—these are the brands that matter. We do not need to worry about the reputational risk or the value of the investment at NERC; we should recognise that BAS and NOC are valuable brands that need protecting.

The question that must be asked is: are there synergies to be gained and is a merger the best way of achieving them? Within the NERC family there are organisations such as the British Geological Survey, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the National Centre for Earth Observation. With all of these there are opportunities for synergy. Certainly with marine and polar science there are opportunities.

However, merger in itself does not achieve any of these synergies. It is NERC’s job to ensure that the different disciplines merge. In America they have combined oceanography, atmospheric sciences, satellite observation, weather forecasting and polar science into one organisation. That is the logical end to all mergers. I would focus on the smaller groups and keep costs down—but we will have to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, about how we will make ends meet. The answer must be by sharing services and logistical support. Whether sharing the fleet will work, either under the ownership of NERC or of someone else, I do not know—but clearly that is the route that has to be explored.

It is essential to pool resources and share costs, but merging NOC and BAS is not the answer. I was very relieved to hear—and entirely accepted—what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said: namely, that it is not a done deal. If it is not too late, let us have the costings and let us see what the costs would be of sharing rather than merging.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for providing us with an opportunity to mark the centenary of the Scott expedition to Antarctica. I chose to speak in this debate not because I have expert knowledge: I have none. I have not been to Antarctica, but I long to go. I know my fascination with this largely unknown continent—the last to be explored, the largest single mass of ice on earth, with some of the most spectacular mountain ranges anywhere in the world—is shared by many. For me, that fascination is inescapably bound up in the tragic outcome of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition.

I suspect that many of us were brought up on the tale of Scott’s journey, of his party reaching the South Pole only to discover that they had been beaten by Roald Amundsen, and of the deaths of, first, Evans, then Oates, and finally Scott, Bowers and Wilson—whose watercolours, done in such extreme conditions, are a revelation. It is a tale of endurance and bravery in the face of unimaginable hardship; a tale of heroism that still resonates strongly in this centenary year. I commend the schools programme website of the Royal Geographical Society for the imaginative way in which it engages new and younger minds with this heroic venture.

When the bodies of Scott, Bowers and Wilson were found on 12 November 1912, some 35 pounds of rock samples were found with them. The men had continued to carry them despite their desperate state. Clearly, the expedition had been driven as much by science as by any dreams of claiming the pole for the British Empire.

The scientists who live and work in Antarctica today are following a tradition of research and exploration pioneered by the UK, but the Antarctic treaty that binds them is the true legacy of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. The treaty’s 14 articles guarantee continued freedom to conduct scientific research and promote international scientific co-operation, and require that the results of research be made freely available.

As other noble Lords highlighted, it has never been more vital that we continue to learn whatever we can from this huge continent. The Library’s excellent briefing highlights how Antarctica’s unique climate and geography make it important to many globally significant processes. Understanding these processes is vital for understanding and predicting climate and environmental changes and their impacts, including future greenhouse gas levels, sea-level rise and changes in atmospheric composition—the hole in the ozone layer. We look to science to help equip us to tackle these challenges.

Our expertise in the UK is found in the British Antarctic Survey, which has been responsible for most of the UK’s scientific research in Antarctica over the past 60 years, and is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. In researching this debate, I realised the number of national and international collaborations and joint research projects in which BAS is involved, with more than 40 UK universities. These projects show that we are still placing ourselves at the frontier of exploration in Antarctica. Yet despite this, as we heard today from all sides of the House, there is anxiety in the scientific academic community about the possible merger of the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre. It seems that, although this proposal aims,

“to better exploit the many scientific and operational synergies between marine and polar science”,

the fear is that funding cuts are the real driver. With other noble Lords, I ask the Minister to give us further assurances that the UK’s commitment to Antarctic research will not be undermined by the proposals.

It is fitting that in this centenary year our legacy of commitment to science and exploration is reflected in the remit of the international Scott centenary expedition, due to set off in November, and the British Services Antarctic Expedition, which has been carrying out scientific and exploration work on the Antarctic peninsula since January this year. Both expeditions are hoping to meet at the historic location of the last camp of Scott and his companions. I find this aspect particularly poignant. By now, the bodies lie tens of miles from their recorded position in 1912, buried under metres of impacted snow on the Ross Ice Shelf, which is drifting slowly northwards. A century or two from now, that piece of ice will meet the ocean and Scott’s last expedition will set sail again, in an iceberg, and the naval captain will finally receive a burial at sea.

Robert Falcon Scott’s son, the late Sir Peter Scott, felt that:

“We should have the sense to leave just one place alone”,

but I feel more in tune with the leader of the first commercial Antarctica cruise in 1966, who observed that,

“You can’t protect what you don’t know”.

We must continue to fund our ground-breaking research in Antarctica.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving me the opportunity to add my voice to those of other noble Lords in objecting to the NERC proposal to merge BAS and NOC. It is short-sighted and dangerous, will not necessarily save money and must not happen.

Along with the noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh and Lord Mitchell, I visited the Antarctic and the Falkland Islands in January 2004 for a report of our Science and Technology Committee about international scientific treaties and the UK’s contribution to them. Of course, some of the most successful treaties to which the UK has made a massive contribution are the Antarctic treaties. Therefore, when we were invited by BAS to send four representatives to the south, we jumped at the chance to see for ourselves.

We saw plenty, because it was summer and we had 24 hours’ daylight. We saw the extreme nature of the conditions under which the programme operates and the need for operational expertise and proper resources both to enable the scientists to do their work and to keep them safe. Of course, if we had gone in the Antarctic winter we would have seen even more extreme conditions.

We were impressed by the quality of the people at Rothera and the outlying camps, and the care they took to abide by the treaties; for example, nothing must be left behind. The Antarctic is very important environmentally and also very beautiful—the last real wilderness—and it is vital that, in studying it, man does not destroy it. The camp at Rothera needed to be entirely self-sufficient so it had its own water treatment and sewage plant and generators, and in the winter it needed to carry supplies for many months—so the plumbers were just as important as the scientists.

We were all impressed by the professionalism, flexibility, egalitarian attitude, team spirit, loyalty, pride and commitment to their organisation of all who were there. These things are not easily generated or retained in an amorphous organisation but they are very important to a polar programme. Despite all this, the staff of BAS are not even mentioned until paragraph 36 of the consultation and then only as a set of numbers. Staff are BAS’s capital asset and the structure within which they work must serve them and not the other way round.

This has never been an inward-facing organisation. It faces outwards and is the greatest possible credit to UK science. It already demonstrates scientific synergies, mentioned in the consultation, and has partnerships with the NOC and many other organisations and universities. Of course, it is also very important geopolitically in a very sensitive part of the world. I warn the Government that, as Argentina makes rumblings about its claims to the Falkland Islands and the British Antarctic Territory, this is not the time—if there ever was one—to make major changes to the status of our national presence there.

The Government must understand in what very high esteem this organisation is held throughout the world, and how important its scientific work is. We all know that BAS scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer but their achievements amount to a great deal more than that, as we have heard in earlier speeches.

The reputation of BAS contributes massively to the general reputation of UK science and we rely a great deal on that for commercial reasons that contribute to the economy. I want to mention that reputation further because preserving it requires a tight-knit team, not just an arm of something more nebulous.

Reputation is a precious but fragile thing. BAS’s reputation is based not only on the number and quality of the peer-reviewed papers that issue from it but on the operational and management efficiency that has been demonstrated, at least in the past. These would be compromised by the merger proposal. For example, despite BAS’s enviable reputation for safety, there were two tragic accidents some years ago. One was the death of a young scientist, Kirsty Brown, killed by a leopard seal when diving, and the other was the loss of the old Bonner Laboratory from fire. Both these events could have resulted in serious loss of reputation, but they did not. Why? It was because a professional team with a strong leader took control of both situations and managed the human, material, transport and reputational issues of both of them in a way that that was praised by family and in the media at the time. Could that tight control have been exercised under the proposed regime? I think not.

NERC has not made its case and the quality of the consultation document is poor. I beg the Government not to allow any decision to be made until the Science and Technology Committee has scrutinised the proposals.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on securing this debate. Partly due to the topicality of the merger, it raises some hugely important questions—which NERC may be on to—about the broader, global, contextual matters within which the British Antarctic Survey could be more integrated. I shall come to a proposition that I should like to make about the relationship between the Antarctic and the Arctic.

My particular interest in the debate lies in the fact that my cousin, Mary-Anne Lea, is a senior member of the Australian Antarctic team, based at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. She spends a good deal of time in the Antarctic. When she is in London, she stays in my flat and I am always brought up to date on what is going on in the Antarctic.

It seems to me that we are somehow today asking the wrong question. A former trade union colleague of mine had a favourite quip. He would often say, “Well, if that’s the answer, it must be a bloody silly question”. I think that this is possibly a bloody silly question if you look at the billions, trillions and zillions of pounds being spent around the Arctic. A wonderful book was published a couple of years ago, which I recommend anyone to read, The Future History of the Arctic by Charles Emmerson. There are all sorts of similarities, as well as differences, between the carve-up in the Arctic and the carve-up in the Antarctic. Although the political question of the sea bed in the Arctic is not analogous to that in Antarctic, there are some things that do connect them.

When I was a member of a parliamentary delegation a couple of years ago to some islands in the Pacific equator—they used to be called the Gilbert and Ellice Islands—an Australian oceanographer was there. He was hands-on. He had a sort of stick—it was a bit more sophisticated than a stick—looking at the sea levels over donkey’s years on the equator. There was no acceleration, but the level was going up by three millimetres a year—that is one-eighth of an inch. It so happens, and many colleagues will have read the recent papers on all this, that there is a paradox: where the sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking fast, in Antarctica, it has been steadily expanding in recent years. The research that has been done suggests that the two polar zones are reacting differently because of local circumstances. We read today that a Russian Arctic oil company has become the biggest producer of oil in the world, or is shortly to become so. You can imagine that a few billion pounds here and a few billion pounds there soon start to add up to real money. If I can carry on my metaphor a bit further, we are certainly talking here about peanuts. Now, it is all very well if I tell Mr Osborne that this is peanuts: he will say that these peanuts need to be found from somewhere else. Let us find them from somewhere else.

Why can there not be a global, north-south look at future comparisons of the Arctic and Antarctic on the basis of some money from the oil companies or something like that? We could, as it were, help sponsor those with reputation, as the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, said. We might use another word for hypothecation—it may be creeping forward a bit in the philosophy of the Labour Party, but I will be corrected if I am saying something out of order on that. Yet you cannot sell the product of this research quite in the way that you can capture it to an individual. This is the case for market externalities being part of the public purse.

There is a marvellous opportunity here for getting out of the box that NERC seems to be in and taking a world lead in a totally different way, whereby you get some funding for a succession of ad hoc studies or something like that. Yes, please retain the brand. That is like saying that the Church of England or the TUC has been in decline: you would not get rid of the brand just because of financial difficulties. The brand is the asset in many ways. I hope that the Minister will start to think about whether a different question could produce a better and more relevant answer.

My Lords, I am also very grateful to my noble friend for introducing today’s debate. Sadly, I have never been to the Antarctic and think I have left it a bit too late to do so. I am very fortunate to have a three-way connection with Scott. My youngest stepson, Robert Swan, is the first man in history to have walked to both poles, as noted in the Guinness book of records. With Roger Mear, he was successful in arriving at the South Pole in 1986, only to find that his supply ship, “Southern Quest”, had sunk. Since then, he has returned a number of times with others to clear up the amount of rubbish that I have no doubt that those who have been to Antarctica have seen around the South Pole and, sadly, near Scott’s hut.

Secondly, my stepfather, Claud Hamilton, was a friend of Scott’s doctor, who I believe was a New Zealander. He and my stepfather left me a number of photographs of Scott’s expedition. Somebody from Cambridge saw them and, as they did not have them, I handed them over for their archives—where they belong.

Thirdly, only recently an American researcher from McMurdo Sound contacted me to say that he has seen Mount Newall, which was named after my grandfather. I understand that there is also a glacier named after him. My grandfather was a successful stockbroker and evidently twice helped Scott’s finances with the replacement of “Discovery”. The Stock Exchange raised large sums to help Scott—the Government of the time were very reluctant to help.

As my noble friend does, I well remember Eddie, Lord Shackleton in this House. He was also my stepson’s patron, as were Peter Scott and Vivian Fuchs. Explorers who risk everything deserve great admiration, if they are successful or not.

Robert goes into business now to motivate staff to—as he says, in not very polite English—get off their backsides and do something like he did. He did it without any money: he raised all the money and managed to be successful. Nobody has mentioned that some years ago he wrote a book about 2041, expressing his concerns that the international treaty now in existence could be modified or changed to allow mining and resource exploration in the Antarctic. He very much hopes that he is proved wrong. We must hope that the schoolchildren of today safeguard the future of such a fantastic region of the world and make certain that it is not despoiled by greed.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate. I am particularly keen on thanking her because she has brought to their feet a great many women Peers. She will know very well that, for a long time, Antarctica was a territory forbidden to women. This country had a very bad reputation in that respect; it is doing better than it did; but it is not nearly good enough. The Americans have a ratio of about 60 men to 40 women on their bases. Our record is nothing like as good. The leadership of the noble Baroness is much to be welcomed.

I rise with unusual diffidence because I am fully aware that I am talking about a subject which most noble Lords know far more about than I do. When I tell them that there are actually two Antarcticas—an east and a west—they will tell me that I am teaching them to suck eggs, which is perfectly true, but that distinction is very important. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, brought it out when he talked about the ice cores being brought up. The extraordinary fact is that at the bottom of one of them was ice which was formed by snow that had fallen 800,000 years ago. I find one detail even more exciting than that: trapped in that ice was air from about 800,000 years ago, long before any of us was ever thought of.

The whole point is that East Antarctica represents our past; West Antarctica represents our future. If I may burden your Lordships, I recommend to you all reading a marvellous new book written by an Englishwoman called Gabrielle Walker. It is simply entitled Antarctica. It is 350 pages long; I have another 30 pages to read. It is brilliant. Anyone who reads the penultimate chapter alone will take seriously the question of human responsibility for our future as being reflected in the developments in West Antarctica.

I have been very fortunate. I have been down to Antarctica five times. I regret to have to tell your Lordships that that has made me a bit of a snob. I do not regard people who have gone down in a 20,000 tonne cruise ship and got off at the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula as having visited the Antarctic; they have just had an opportunity for a few nice photographs. Just crossing the Antarctic convergence is not enough for me; to do it, you have to cross the Antarctic Circle, which is quite a difficult thing to do, as anyone who knows the map of Antarctica will confirm.

I never got to the pole, I got as far as 78 degrees, 35 minutes and a few seconds south. I am very ambitious—I hope to persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, also to be ambitious—to go again and go further south. All the business about 20,000 people a year visiting Antarctica is in my view complete and absolute rubbish.

I was also fortunate in that I completed a circumnavigation of Antarctica in two halves. I now come to my constructive point. I have been very fortunate to visit several emperor penguin colonies. That is not easy. You have to go on an icebreaker, and there are not any around any more making that trip. I seriously suggest to the Government that they set up a programme for secondary school children of a suitable sort to visit Antarctica and have the opportunity to go on a small icebreaker so that they can get through the outer ice, the lees and then the ice on the fringes of the continent itself. Then they can see for themselves the magic of emperor penguin colonies.

Lastly, I want a firm assurance that the Government will support the Antarctic treaty whenever it comes up for renewal.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on securing this important and timely debate, and all noble Lords who have taken part this afternoon. The debate is relevant on two counts: first: our pride in celebrating Scott’s centenary; and secondly, by way of contrast, our deep concern, which has been expressed today, over the proposed imminent organisational changes at BAS.

No Briton can be indifferent to the exploits of our great explorers who went to the polar regions a hundred years ago. Captain Scott’s mission to be the first man to reach the South Pole has captivated us ever since. Similarly, we remain enthralled by the heroic exploits of Ernest Shackleton. Polar exploration still fills us with awe. Both missions failed in their principal objective. Nevertheless, they both captured the very essence of our nation: gritty determination overcoming all the odds and, above all, never giving up.

In 2004, I chaired an investigation on behalf of your Lordships’ House into science and treaties. We decided to visit the British base at Rothera because the base is one of the few places on earth that is owned by no one and is governed by international treaty. I was accompanied by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble—and indefatigable—Lord, Lord Oxburgh. I do not know whether it is possible to go native in a land without natives, but I went native. For all of us, it changed our lives. Certainly for me, it was the trip of a lifetime, and I think about it often. I can top the story told by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert: we had gin and tonics with ice that was 800,000 years old.

There are three aspects that I would like to address—the science, the base itself and the geopolitical aspects—but I cannot start without addressing the proposed merger. Management by spreadsheet is a process beloved of all accountants, but it is a process that studiously avoids good will or what those accountants would call soft assets. Any creative person will tell you that once the suits get involved, the very heart goes out of the project. The British Antarctic Survey is a national treasure in a way that neither NERC nor NOC could ever be. BAS carries on in the spirit of Scott and Shackleton. To subsume BAS, to gut it, to leave it out unloved on some organisational limb would be a supreme act of folly. Only the spreadsheets could come to that conclusion. I listened to the forceful words of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, but what NERC has done so far hardly gives hope for the future, and to my noble friend Lord Lea I say please keep the oil companies away from Antarctica. I think I speak for the whole House, except for the noble Lord, Lord Willis, in saying that we are against this merger, and I hope that NERC is listening.

My first and very direct question to the Minister is this: will she please tell us what is planned for BAS and can she assure us that its prominence and independence will be maintained? Our planet is under threat, primarily from global warming. We know it to be so, but there are many who reject the fact that global warming is manmade. Those people are powerful, and they have a great deal of influence. They are not just the evangelicals in the United States or the mega energy companies; we even have some of them in your Lordships’ House. The only way we can refute them is by science-based evidence.

BAS has a history of alerting the world to such global dangers. It is to the forefront of protecting the earth because it is at the vanguard of global scientific research. The discovery of the ozone layer and its depletion was a major BAS discovery. The awareness that that created about the potential dangers to our environment led to untold benefits for our natural environment. BAS’s ongoing work is world-class. Despite its relatively small size, it is at the summit in the number of scientific papers and citations it produces. Its principal work is studying the effects of seawater warming, the retreating ice shelves and the changes in marine, animal and plant behaviour as well as co-operating with our international partners to measure the dangers to our planet. Can we seriously contemplate downgrading this influential institution by merging it into irrelevance?

Unless you have visited the BAS base, it is very hard to convey how special and unique the place really is. From what I hear, several of the key people involved in this proposed takeover have not even been there. Because it is so remote, and because it is also so dangerous, the people who work there are a special breed. There are scientists, of course, but there is also the full complement of support staff and others. With only one or two ships visiting a year, the base has to be self-sufficient. It has everything necessary—doctors, plumbers, pilots and cooks—but what struck me most of all is that they are all part of an interdisciplinary scientific family. Support staff assist the scientists, scientists wash the dishes, and everyone pitches in.

The base brings out the best of people, but this does not happen by chance. It happens through excellent management and charismatic leadership—at least that was the situation when we were there, but from what they tell me, it is less the case.

In addition to my own thoughts on this matter, I would like to add a few words of my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland of Asthal—previously the Attorney-General—who, while Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories, visited the Antarctic with BAS. Sadly she cannot be here today. She said, “I was much impressed by the excellent quality and importance of the science carried out by BAS. While the famous BAS paper by Farman and his colleagues on the discovery of the ozone hole remains by a long way the most cited research paper in the history of Antarctic science, BAS continues to be a world leader in such topics as the exploration of ice cores. However, it is in the area of environment and conservation, in addition to curiosity-driven discoveries, that BAS provides a special expertise relied upon by the British Government in its role as a consultative party of the Antarctic treaty system. The deliberations and decisions of the Antarctic treaty consultative meetings need to be based on evidence and facts. BAS scientists are acknowledged leaders in the field, providing the UK with a powerful base for maintaining its interests and influence. Yet despite BAS’s front-ranking science and achievement, it was the egalitarian coherence and tight integration that left the most lasting impression. I also want to remind their Lordships of the geopolitical sensitivities of the South Atlantic, in which—for decades—the BAS presence has been the primary means by which the UK expresses its ongoing interests. To risk sending the slightest signal that could be interpreted as a weakening of UK resolve or an inability through austerity to maintain such a presence risks consequences of an historic nature. Far better to maintain and strengthen BAS in its current successful form for the benefits of science”.

I, too, would now like to address the geopolitical aspects of BAS. The bases in Antarctica are located in a part of the world which is very sensitive to our national interest. The Falklands and the southern islands are still in play, as they were in 1982. Oil and fish are both resources which are prized by other nations and it is not surprising that the politicians in Buenos Aires are watching our every move. As Einstein said:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”.

We are on the verge of doing just that: taking an insane decision by ineptitude that could cause us much pain. Any downgrade of the BAS bases on the peninsula would be interpreted as weakness, just as it was in 1982.

I am told that the Prime Minister and other members of the National Security Council gave a very clear directive: that BAS was not to be touched and not to be downgraded in any way. Therefore, I ask the Minister: is this true? I hope it is true, because it would be the correct decision. From what I hear, however, this directive is being ignored. Again, is the Minister aware of this and is this true?

We are talking about matters of national security, where vital decisions have been taken in Downing Street. We cannot allow them to be overruled by the spreadsheets in Swindon. We have a national treasure which is doing vital work to protect the planet; but we also have an outpost that represents our commitment to the South Atlantic. Boots on the snow really matter. If we downgrade Rothera, we will never recover. The Foreign Secretary should make a very public statement committing his Government’s support for BAS. Otherwise, others will draw their own conclusions.

Finally, there are four words that buzz around my head and it is a question that I must ask the Minister: What would Maggie do?

My Lords, this is an interesting moment in which to address the third debate in my new job but the first in this Chamber. Before I turn to the debate, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Howell, who is a hard act to follow, but I will try. As the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said, I am quickly learning that Members of this House invariably will always know more than me in almost every debate.

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond for the Government on this debate brought by my noble friend Lady Hooper on the centenary of Captain Scott’s death and Britain’s enduring scientific legacy and physical presence in Antarctica. I am proud to say that the Government share the strength of feeling in this House on the importance of Scott’s legacy and the great scientific and strategic value of Antarctica to the United Kingdom’s long-term interests. Recently, there has been speculation that possible changes to the British Antarctic Survey may result in a downgrading of British interest or capacity. I want specifically to reassure noble Lords that Ministers are absolutely committed to maintaining and developing a physical presence in Antarctica.

Let me start with a few words on Captain Scott and his brave team. Despite the tragedy of their final journey, their moving story is one of bravery, endurance and good fellowship, and, importantly, of their commitment to scientific discovery. The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, eloquently narrated the poignant story, as did my noble friend Lady Sharples in relation to her personal connections to “Discovery” and “Endeavour”. It is those attributes that have been such a source of pride as we remember and celebrate this centenary year of Scott’s achievement.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is proud to have been able to support the organisation of the memorial service in St Paul’s Cathedral for Captain Scott and his colleagues in the presence of Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal. We have also marked the centenary in other ways. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister recorded a message that was broadcast to all those working in Antarctica. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary signed an agreement with his Norwegian counterpart to celebrate our shared polar history and increased co-operation on heritage and science issues. The Minister for the Polar Regions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted a reception for the descendants of the Scott expedition. On behalf of this House, I thank everyone in the Antarctic community who made the centenary such a success.

The centenary has been about remembering the bravery and sacrifices of Scott’s expedition and the truly world-class scientific legacy that endures to this day. Both the British Antarctic Survey and the Scott Polar Research Institute are world-leading centres of excellence, supporting the United Kingdom’s strong record on science, discovery and education about Antarctica. My noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, are right to raise the impact of the science of Antarctica on our understanding of climate change. It was the long-term monitoring of activities in Antarctica that allowed British scientists to discover the ozone hole in 1984. There is no doubt that the UK will continue to undertake world-class science in Antarctica.

We anticipate that in just a few weeks’ time the British Lake Ellsworth project will begin to drill down through three kilometres of ice to a freshwater lake that has been hidden for hundreds of thousands of years. That is possible only because of British scientists, British companies, British innovation and the British spirit of exploration. It is exactly the kind of endeavour that is the spirit of Scott. It is not too far-fetched to say that there is a golden thread of scientific excellence running directly from those first ambitious steps of Scott’s scientific work right through to projects such as Lake Ellsworth today. That thread is strong but it is not unbreakable, and we should not take it for granted. The noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh and Lord Hunt, raised important concerns. Both come to this debate with great expertise and experience. Let me assure this House that this Government recognise the thread of that science and its importance, and we will take all the steps necessary to preserve British supremacy in this field.

British scientists have the confidence and ability to operate in Antarctica because of the strong presence, experience and logistical skill of the British Antarctic Survey. In turn, the importance of the science that can be carried out in Antarctica justifies and reinforces the need to have the strongest possible presence and the widest reach. Let me assure noble Lords, and specifically concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Jenkin, that there is no doubt that Antarctica matters to the United Kingdom. British explorers were the first to venture there and we were the first to claim territory. We have maintained a permanent year-round presence in Antarctica since 1944 and we will continue to do so.

The British Antarctic Territory is the largest of the UK’s overseas territories and the Government place great importance on ensuring its security and good governance. British presence is maintained jointly by the British Antarctic Survey and the Royal Navy, whose ice patrol vessel, HMS “Protector”, plays a vital role in delivering our responsibilities.

Our national Antarctic programmes are proud to operate from the Falkland Islands, which is a vital gateway to both the British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Government understand the importance of maintaining close links between all British activities in the South Atlantic and visibly demonstrating our strongest possible long-term commitment to the region.

As Antarctica emerges from its long winter sleep and the 30 men and women of the British Antarctic Survey who have kept the lights burning there for the past six months prepare for their companions to rejoin them, it is fitting to thank them and to remember the hardships that Antarctic service still entails. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, is right to pay tribute to all those who work there. In particular, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the 29 men and women who have died on active Antarctic service for Britain in the region over the past 60 years. Just as they are never forgotten by their family and friends, so they and their sacrifices are remembered by us.

This Government recognise and respect our international commitments to Antarctica, in particular to the Antarctic treaty, which the UK was instrumental in bringing into existence. For more than 50 years the Antarctic treaty has preserved Antarctica for peace and science. It is arguably one of the world’s most successful international agreements. Antarctica is the only continent never to have seen conflict and the UK will strive to ensure that this will always be the case.

The Antarctic peninsula is one of the fastest warming and therefore most rapidly changing places on the planet. There are serious challenges ahead as the ice melts, accessibility increases and the climate becomes more welcoming to new species carried there either by natural means or by human activity. Britain will continue to provide global leadership in responding to these challenges and, in the spirit of Scott, we will strive for success no matter how difficult things get. In particular, we will work to ensure that the prohibition on the commercial extraction of minerals and hydrocarbons remains in place. We will seek agreement to ensure that everyone who visits Antarctica does so in a safe and environmentally friendly way. We will support new legislation to implement a new agreement on liability for environmental emergencies in Antarctica. We will press for higher standards for vessels visiting the Southern Ocean, particularly fishing vessels. We will advocate the establishment of further marine protection measures for the Southern Ocean, building on our experience of creating the world’s first high seas marine protected area to the south of the South Orkney Islands in 2009.

However, given the rich Antarctic tradition, concerns about the future of British engagement are understandable. Noble Lords have raised a number of important issues this afternoon in relation to the future of the British presence. I want to be absolutely clear; Ministers have agreed that the dual mission of science and presence will continue and that Britain’s physical footprint in Antarctica in ships, aircraft and bases will be maintained. Importantly, I assure noble Lords that the iconic British Antarctic Survey name will be retained for all activities and logistics relating to the Antarctic and the South Atlantic. I take the important point made by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on branding and that made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley on reputation.

The Natural Environment Research Council has confirmed that it will continue to deliver for the UK both regional presence in Antarctica and the South Atlantic and a world-class science programme. It has also confirmed that it will maintain an overt and clearly branded British presence in Antarctica, maintain the logistical and strategic footprint of the British Antarctic Survey, ensure full ongoing support for the Antarctic treaty process and appoint a British director to manage and oversee all British activities in Antarctica. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Willis for his clear and concise contribution, which dealt with some of the misunderstanding around the recent consultation.

These and others are strong and good reasons to be confident about the future of Britain’s scientific activity and physical presence in Antarctica. The next four months will see the start of the sub-glacial Lake Ellsworth drilling project, the official opening of the brand new Halley VI module on the Antarctic ice shelf and, I hope, an opportunity for this House to debate the new Antarctic Bill to increase environmental protection for the region. These are all genuine reasons for optimism.

Yes, Ministers have been actively engaged in this decision, including the financial case that was raised by my noble friend Lord Avebury. No final decision has been made on the merger; all responses on the consultation, as well as the views of noble Lords heard in the House today, will be considered.

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, raised a specific question about financial contributions to the conservation of the Scott huts. The Government of the British Antarctic Territory, an overseas territory, provide ongoing funding to the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. The trust uses that funding to support the conservation of British huts.

My noble friend Lady Hooper asked a specific question about the Antarctic science strategy. The Natural Environment Research Council is developing its forward strategy and will require its research centres, including the British Antarctic Survey, to do likewise.

The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, raised concerns about why science is increasingly required to focus on commercial interests for commercial activity. Research councils, including NERC, fund research into all aspects of science, from frontier science to closed-market activities. Scientific excellence is the essential criterion.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised the issue of communication. I share the view that the Antarctic treaty needs to do more to communicate with the public. For the UK’s part, the FCO developed with BAS and the Royal Geographical Society a BAFTA-nominated educational website,, which was developed to do just that.

I hope that in answering noble Lords’ concerns, I have assured the noble Lord, Lord Lea, that the Government are asking the right questions to get the right answers.

I am grateful for the opportunity presented by my noble friend Lady Hooper to pay tribute to Captain Scott and his brave team, and to his enduring legacy. Today Antarctica matters to the United Kingdom more than ever as a place of peace, common scientific endeavour, international collaboration and environmental protection. Looking back across the years and the vast whiteness of the Antarctic continent to that last desolate camp where they met their fate, I would like to think that Scott, his team and their descendants would be proud of what we have achieved in Antarctica and what we will continue to achieve in the years ahead.

My Lords, in summarising the research, the Minister has referred to the British Antarctic Survey, which is fine, but 50% of that research is done in universities, which she has not mentioned.

My Lords, the questions raised today have predominantly been about the British Antarctic Survey. I hope that in addressing noble Lords’ concerns I have specifically referred to BAS. The Government remain committed to science, wherever it may take place.

I believe that the debate today has shown that, in Antarctica, Britain has the strongest possible tradition, the clearest ministerial commitment to maintaining and developing our scientific and physical presence, and significant opportunities for the future. With the commitment and skill of the brave men and women of the British Antarctic Survey, those of the Royal Navy and the many other researchers and workers in Antarctica, I have every confidence that we will be able to live up to what Scott described in his final moving message as,

“a tale of hardihood, endurance and courage”,

to stir the heart.

My Lords, this has been an excellent, fascinating and constructive debate. I am particularly glad that voices have been raised from all sides of the House, and indeed that the balance of male and female voices has met with the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. Questions clearly still need to be answered about the way forward, and difficult decisions lie ahead. However, we can take some comfort from the assurances that the proposed merger of BAS and NOC is not a done deal, and that there is government recognition of the role and work of BAS and of the importance and relevance of the brands as they stand. I hope that the views expressed by so many noble Lords with real knowledge and experience will be taken into account, not only by NERC and the Foreign Office but by all the government departments that should be involved in such an important issue.

In thanking all noble Lords for their participation, I also congratulate the Minister, who in her new Foreign Office role is proof of the fate of Lords Ministers in every department, which is to have to answer questions and reply to debates on subjects far removed from their own departmental responsibilities.

Motion agreed.

Bus Industry

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have for further developments in the bus industry.

Punctuality and reliability are the main concerns of passengers. The obvious way to resolve this is to implement Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. It has been on the statute book for eight years and has not been implemented. Yet, if there is any single thing that the Government can do to improve the operation of buses in towns and cities, this is it. The Welsh Government have introduced measures to ensure that the Act is implemented, and they have done all the legal work that may be involved. It can be transcribed into English law quite easily and much less expensively than I have been told before.

The second issue that I want to bring to noble Lords’ attention is the precarious state of rural services and services used in many areas by holidaymakers. It is all very well for people to say, “We are not in the tourism business”, but the buses that the holiday visitors use are in fact the same buses as those that convey, in particular, pensioners with discretionary travel arrangements. No duplicates are likely to be provided next summer because the operators cannot afford to run them, and they receive no proper recompense for them from the Government. Buses will be overcrowded in those areas, and regular fare-paying passengers will be left behind because the seats will have already been taken by people who do not pay fares.

The issue of young people’s fares is extremely important because it is at that age that people consider buying a car. The railways have a national scheme for cheaper travel for young people. I am certainly not asking for a free travel scheme for those people, but there should be a national scheme, and I should like to know whether the Government are doing anything to bring that about.

The Government speak about the need for fuel efficiency and say that that is one of the reasons why they wish to terminate bus service operator grants. There is a much better way—it is to encourage bus operators, through various funding mechanisms, to use a scheme called RIBAS. There is a similar scheme on the market which monitors drivers’ performance, all their driving techniques, their speeds and other things. I urge the Government to give consideration to this as a much more useful means of improving drivers’ behaviour generally and cutting fuel costs. I know of one company that operates the scheme whose fuel costs have reduced by 5%.

Can the Minister tell me what is considered to be a reasonable level of profit for an operator who is trying to keep his fleet of buses up to date and his staff properly trained? It is all very well for people to talk about bus barons as if they had gold flowing out of their pockets but, in fact, a number of reputable small operators simply cannot afford to keep up with the business and are actually thinking of selling up. In my own area of Oxfordshire, one independent operator went out of business last week.

Making bids for various funds costs a lot of money. The better bus area fund provision excludes population centres under 100,000, which directly discriminates against out-of-centre bus operations. The rural or inter-urban bus operator is desperately waiting for the Government to come forward with a comprehensive and reasonable scheme to suit them.

The Competition Commission and the competition authorities have had an extensive inquiry into the bus industry. I should like to know how much money the Government estimate that has cost the taxpayer and the bus industry, which has had to provide information for the inquiry. The results are, frankly, pathetic. Just one or two small extensions to the powers of traffic commissioners could have done more than was achieved by the Competition Commission at a much lower cost. I urge the Minister to go back and tell his honourable friends that their—I am not sure how to describe it—reluctance to give the traffic commissioners power is really rather silly. I think that it probably smacks more of interdepartmental in-fighting than it does of a concern for a competitive and healthy industry.

We are also very concerned about the compensation culture, which is costing bus companies a lot of money. I am fairly certain that many insurance companies are complicit in the knock-for-knock arrangements, whereby they settle a claim even though one of the parties is innocent and that party then calls on his insurance company to make good the loss.

At the last estimate, anti-social behaviour—for example, damaging buses—cost the industry about £574 million. Most of the cost of crime related to crimes against the individual—either a passenger or a member of staff—with the remaining 39% being costs to the operator resulting from damage to vehicles. Although they may be repaired very quickly, such damage inevitably means that a bus will not be in service for a day or two, and that is extremely expensive for the operator.

I should like to know—if anybody does know—how many members of the Cabinet or, for that matter, heads of county councils ever travel on a bus outside London. I accept that they might get on a bus in London because it is convenient to do so. However, the people who run bus services and send money to the bus companies to subsidise passengers have very little experience of what life is like, even though the bus is by far the most popular means of public transport in the country.

I know of an excellent operator who has invested in many new buses, but this year his fuel prices are 58% higher than they were last year due to the reduction in the bus service operator grant. He has already had to raise fares three times this year in a poorer area of the country, and that is a serious matter that needs to be addressed.

The industry is short of skilled staff to deal with both modern diagnostics, which relate to the engine and the fuel system, and the very complicated ticket machines which are being introduced. There is simply not the skilled staff available to deal with these matters. I would like to hear whether the Government have any proposals on this.

Some local authorities—I believe that Cornwall was one of them—have decided to specify the bus services through the procurement department rather than through their transport staff. The procurers will not accept non-compliant bids. That works against the grain as the specification needs to be in the hands of people who understand bus services. Much of the consultation that the Government have put out on the bus industry—a new one came out last month—never seems to make the case for the proposed changes. The consultation is about implementation but the decision has already been made about what will be done. That needs to be changed so that people understand what the Government are trying to achieve.

Lastly, and this summarises the whole thing in a way, in local authorities transport is a discretionary duty. Local authorities face a 28% cut in grant and they have to have higher regard for their statutory duties. Libraries and, particularly, bus services are two areas that are being starved of money. Again, I would like to know what the Government propose because if any more money is delegated to local authorities from national funds, it is likely to find its way out of the bus industry into other services.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I do not have any financial interests to declare in these matters. I should point out that I chair the Bus Appeals Board, which is a purely voluntary post and I have over the years worked for both the National Express Group and First Group on the bus side.

The noble Lord started his speech by referring to the two important factors in running bus services being punctuality and reliability. Unlike him, I am not sure which piece of legislation he was referring to but I am sure that he would agree with me that these matters are largely the responsibility of highways authorities, outside passenger transport executive areas or passenger transport executives—the integrated transport authorities as we are now to know them—within our major cities. I hope that when the Minister replies, he will agree with me that punctuality and reliability do not depend on ownership of bus companies.

I find it depressing that people in my own party, in particular, continually call for reregulation although it is more than 25 years since buses were deregulated. Since then, we have had the back end of a Conservative Government, 13 years of a Labour Government and now two and a half years of a coalition Government, and the 1986 Act has not been repealed. We should make the best of what we have. In many parts of the country, not only are bus services thriving, there are lots of successes to point to without getting into arguments of ownership and reregulation.

I spent most of my working life in the bus industry, although that is a rather flattering description of someone who was chairman of a bus company. Many people who drove buses would not have regarded the chairman as being part of their working lives. But I did mix with them and held a PSV, as it was known at the time. In the West Midlands there has been a considerable number of successes in bus operations that have continued in recent years. Within the past year Centro and a passenger transport authority, or the ITA as it now is, and National Express, the predominant operator in the area, signed a ground-breaking agreement that commits the two organisations to working closely together to drive forward about £25 million worth of improvements for bus passengers across the West Midlands within two years. These commitments from both sides—certainly as far as National Express is concerned— include the introduction of more than 300 new, greener buses, improved onboard cleanliness, a smart card system similar to London’s Oyster card and upgrades to bus shelters and other waiting facilities. They also include more real-time information screening, which will be a great boon to anyone waiting for a bus, specially designed shelters and infrastructures, new passenger information systems, onboard announcements —on which I am not madly keen but they are obviously the thing of the future—improvements to the safety and security arrangements for passengers and the introduction of 40 hybrid electric buses to the region.

However, there is a lack of enforcement of the existing legislation, particularly in regard to bus lane provision. In London we are fortunate: there are lots of buses and most motorists know—they soon find out if they do not—that straying into a bus lane will be immediately followed by a minimum £60 fine. Why do we not have that level of enforcement throughout the country? I presume that is the part of the Act to which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred.

Perhaps I may extend that. I am particularly concerned about yellow-box junctions and right turns, which are clogging the roads. Local authorities need to have the power to deal with moving traffic offences. They can film the offence but they cannot do anything about it.

I am grateful for that clarification. I agree entirely with the noble Lord. Why are not the benefits that bus operators and passengers enjoy in London extended to the rest of the country? I hope that when the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, replies he will be able to give us some comfort on this matter. The greenest, most modern buses are not doing the job for which they are designed if they are stuck in traffic. We are not going to persuade people to get out of their cars and on to public transport if that bus is stuck in the same traffic jam as their own cars.

However, it is not all bad news. I hope the noble Earl and my noble friend on the Front Bench will acknowledge that one rarely hears mention of bus passengers in these debates. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, hazarded a guess that not many Ministers travel by bus. I suggest that many Members of your Lordships’ House do so, if only because most of us have reached the age where we get a financial benefit out of doing so.

If one were to ask bus passengers about the standard of service, one might be pleasantly surprised by the reaction. Passenger Focus recently commissioned a nationwide survey of various companies and sought the opinion of bus passengers. I will cite the Go Ahead group survey. I do not think it operates in my part of the world and I have never worked for it, so I cannot be accused of bias. Among more than 3,000 Go Ahead passengers consulted in the survey, there was an 86% satisfaction level. Would any Government of the day receive such satisfaction levels from the populace at large?

Go North-East, a subsidiary of Go Ahead, had an 88% satisfaction level. I mention this because Nexus, the ITA in the north-east, is, I understand, most anxious to introduce a quality contract. Under the terms of the quality contract the ITA will set both fares and standards of service. I do not know whether Nexus or anyone else has asked passengers in the north-east what they think, but if 88% are satisfied with the service currently provided, it is difficult to imagine that local authority involvement would lead to any greater satisfaction. I will be interested to hear the views of both Front Benches on that matter.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I believe that we should express concern about the price of bus travel, particularly for young people and those seeking employment. All too often Ministers in the present Government—the Chancellor of the Exchequer immediately comes to mind—refer to the unemployed as though somehow it is their fault. When you talk to people who are unemployed—most of us who were in the other place have served the unemployed—the passion, commitment and desire for regular work inspires many of them. However, it is an expensive business to travel to interviews. Only last week a woman told me about going to two interviews here in this city, both of which were held early in the day. That meant she had to pay £10.77 to travel around London because she had to leave during the morning rush hour. Had the interviews been scheduled slightly later in the day, the cost would have been £7-something. For many in your Lordships’ House that £3 would not make much difference, but the unemployed have to decide how best to spend their benefits and it can make a considerable difference.

The Minister will tell me if I am wrong, but I understand that it is possible for people to claim the cost of travel to job interviews. I am told that it is an enormously bureaucratic matter to do so and that it is necessary to jump through all sorts of hoops. Surely the Department for Transport and the department for employment, whatever it is called these days, could sit down and provide some sort of travel voucher for the unemployed to use when they are seeking work. I realise that getting two departments under any Government to discuss financial allocations is the equivalent of the Korean peace talks at Pyongyang, which have lasted for over 50 years, but it ought to be possible to find a less bureaucratic and more humane system than what we have at present.

Unaccountably we have 90 minutes for this debate, but we have been told that we are limited to 10 minutes. Perhaps someone better versed in the rules of your Lordships’ House could explain that, since only four of us are participating. The noble Lord touched on other matters, particularly the distribution of the bus service operators grant. I do not think the Government are aware of the difference between running rural and urban services. The rural bus network is in grave danger of being decimated over the next few years if the changes to BSOG continue. It is an open secret that the Treasury has always regarded BSOG as a subsidy well worth cutting, and having reduced it in the 2011 Budget, there is an intention to actually abolish it before 2015. Such an abolition will lead to the complete decimation of bus services both urban and rural, but particularly in rural areas. It strikes me that the Government will be committing electoral suicide in many areas that are regarded as traditionally Conservative if BSOG is cut further.

I have now exhausted my time. There is some good news about bus service provision, and I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will avoid the view—not expressed by passengers—that the simple answer to any problems are quality contracts and reregulation. That is not the view of those who use the bus to get from A to B.

My Lords, in the light of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I am not sure whether I am required as a bus user both in London and outside London to declare an interest in this debate. I also suspect, having listened to the contribution of my noble friend Lord Snape, that there will be little support behind me, at least from those who have spoken, for what I have to say. But, nevertheless, we proceed.

This is neither the best attended debate nor a debate that has attracted a large number of speakers. However, its subject matter is of considerable importance since more people travel by bus than travel by every other form of public transport combined. I am grateful to the Library of the House for the comprehensive and helpful briefing pack it has provided. Before I go any further I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for giving us an opportunity to discuss developments in the bus industry. One development was a Competition Commission report on the industry outside London, which found that what it described as widespread market segregation had occurred as a result of operator behaviour.

However, the bus industry also has much about which it can be pleased. The 2012 bus passenger survey by Passenger Focus, the official passenger watchdog, found that on average 85% of passengers in England, excluding London, were satisfied with their bus journeys. My noble friend Lord Snape, whose advocacy of and support for buses knows no bounds, referred to the survey.

The chairman of Passenger Focus also commented that while overall passenger satisfaction across the surveyed areas was at a consistently high level, bus passengers rated almost all other specific journey factors lower, with wide disparities in ratings of value for money not only between different areas but between different operators and services in the same area.

The Library briefing pack includes a section on the policy of the coalition Government. It points out that the coalition agreement made one mention of bus services when it stated that the Government would,

“encourage joint working between bus operators and local authorities”.

That is a little vague—no doubt because the Conservatives in opposition had proposed regulation and the introduction of quality contracts, whereas the Liberal Democrats stated in their manifesto that they would,

“give councils greater powers to regulate bus services according to community needs, meaning local people get a real say over routes and fares”.

Will my noble friend tell the House how many quality contracts were made during the period of office of the previous Labour Government?

As I understand it, there were no quality contracts. The legislation was amended in 2008 because the previous legislation has made it an enormous mountain to climb to implement quality contracts. The noble Lord himself made reference to the local transport authorities that are currently seeking to pursue quality contracts in accordance with the legislation.

At Second Reading in the House of Commons of what became the Local Transport Act 2008, the Liberal Democrats said:

“The concept of having partnerships and contracts is right”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/3/08; col. 220.]

Having twice been baited on the subject, I will say that I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Snape, that quality contracts are quite unnecessary if co-operation between the local authority and the bus operator is good. That is why I started with the business about implementing Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, which was passed by his Government.

I note what the noble Lord said, but I am quoting from what his party said in the House of Commons—that the concept of having partnerships and contracts was right. If he is now saying that he does not agree with the statement made by his own party in opposition, of course he is welcome to do so. It is clear that on the issue of contracts, the Conservative Party view has prevailed and the Liberal Democrats have shifted their ground, even though the Minister responsible for the bus industry is a Liberal Democrat.

The bus industry, certainly outside London, is facing a difficult time. The cut in local transport funding of some 28% has led to local authorities cutting back on support for local bus services, and subsidies paid direct to bus companies have also been cut by the Government by one-fifth. In some rural areas, council-supported services make up nearly all the network, yet many of those who use buses have no other means of transport. Cutting a bus route or bus services can cut an opportunity to take up employment or to stay on in education and go to college. That hardly seems consistent with the Government’s declared policy of making it easier to gain skills and take up employment.

We have already set out the significant tranche of cuts to the Department for Transport’s budget that we would have accepted to meet our own commitment to halve the deficit in this Parliament. However, unlike this Government, we would have protected support for local bus services. While the level of financial support from government is very important, it is not the only factor that affects the availability and affordability of local bus services. The ability of local transport authorities to play a role on behalf of passengers, and potential passengers, matters as well.

In government, we legislated to enable transport authorities to, in effect, reregulate buses through the use of quality partnerships, which have led to very successful agreements in some areas, or quality contracts. But the experience of some of the ITAs that have begun to use these powers, particularly in relation to quality contracts, suggests that we did not go far enough. Efforts to introduce quality contracts by integrated transport authorities have been met with specific threats by one of our major national bus companies to close bus depots and sack drivers.

We need measures, which are not currently available, that would provide some protection to enable transport authorities that want to go down the road of quality contracts to do so without facing a long drawn-out and potentially costly process, and even then still face the prospect of being frustrated for no good reason. It should be for the transport authorities, which have a rather wider role and responsibility for the provision of transport within their areas than the bus companies, to decide whether a quality partnership or a quality contract will best deliver their goals and policy objectives on behalf of those whom they represent, and they should not be impeded in achieving either the quality partnership or a quality contract by actions designed to frustrate by either bus companies or indeed government—which I will come on to.

As the recent House of Commons Transport Select Committee report said, in a fairly lengthy but important quote:

“The Quality Contract option is a legitimate one for a local authority to choose. It must also be seen as credible in order to enable the local authorities to apply pressure in cases where competition or partnerships are not working satisfactorily. Local bus operators should not seek to frustrate moves towards a Quality Contract. That no local authority has implemented a Quality Contract more than a decade after the provisions were introduced suggests that there are significant hurdles to overcome, particularly for the first local authority to go down this route. The legislation itself, as amended by the Local Transport Act 2008, seems satisfactory but the process is still lengthy and risky”.

The Select Committee went on to say:

“We recommend that the Government makes the Better Bus Areas funding available, in principle, to support Quality Contracts as well as partnership schemes”.

However, that is precisely what the Government are not doing. The Minister responsible for buses has decided to exclude transport authorities that pursue quality contracts from accessing the Government’s better bus areas fund, to which the Government are implementing the commitment to devolve bus subsidies. The various strands of bus funding should be brought together in a single pot, which could then come under the democratic control of transport authorities.

However, the Government’s decision on access to the better bus areas fund is obviously designed to make it financially difficult, if not impossible, for local transport authorities that wish to go down the road of quality contracts to do so. How can the Government say that they are in favour of devolving powers and yet be prepared to penalise those authorities that decide they wish to pursue tendering, which they are entitled to do under the law? Tendering as an option is not such a radical idea. It is commonplace in much of Europe as well as in London, where a Conservative mayor has not shown any enthusiasm for dismantling the system. In fact, some of the operators opposed to quality contracts in this country are subsidiaries of wider groups that regularly bid for and secure contracts in Europe.

Can my noble friend tell your Lordships’ House whether or not our party is now in favour of the London experience being spread countrywide, and has he cleared such a commitment with the shadow Chancellor?

I did not say that we are in favour of it being spread countrywide, full stop. What I have said is that it should be up to the transport authorities to decide whether to go down the road of quality partnerships or quality contracts, as they are entitled to under current legislation.

We need to protect the funding for bus services. We also need stronger transport authorities accountable for decisions over fares and services to the communities they serve, and with the confidence to decide freely what kind of relationship they want with bus operators. Unfortunately, the Government have decided to go in exactly the opposite direction.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bradshaw for tabling this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, asked why there is a 10-minute Back-Bench speaking limit. That was a decision of the Procedure Committee approved by your Lordships’ House. It is a shame that there are not more contributors, but perhaps on a Thursday afternoon we can understand why.

Will the Minister then use his enormous influence to see that when there is next a 90-minute debate and there are only a few of us, we can take 90 minutes instead of gabbling through everything in 10?

My Lords, I can assure the House that noble Lords have been challenging enough in the debate so far without it being extended.

Buses play a vital role in our economy. Sixty-three per cent of all public transport trips are made on local buses, a total of 2.3 billion bus journeys in 2010-11. The bus is essential for many people to get to work and education and to visit doctors and hospitals. For many, the bus is a lifeline and, without it, they would not be able to socialise. More than half of those who rely on the bus outside London do not have access to a car.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, customer satisfaction with their bus journeys is high, with 85% of passengers being satisfied with their service. The under-21s make up a third of bus passengers and use among the over-60s is increasing as a result of the national concessionary pass. A recent study by the University of Leeds has reinforced the importance of buses to a healthy and growing economy. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for his positive comments about the bus industry.

The Government remain committed to improving bus services, and expenditure on buses reflects this. This year, the Government will spend around £1 billion on the concessionary travel entitlement and £350 million in direct subsidy to bus operators in England. Another £200 million has been allocated to funding major bus projects in the past year, including improvement schemes in Bristol and Manchester.

In March, we provided £70 million through the better bus area fund to deliver improvements in 24 local authorities, £31 million to invest in low-carbon buses and the second instalment of a £20 million package to support community transport. Many bus improvement schemes have also been funded as part of the Government’s £600 million local sustainable transport fund. All this funding demonstrates how important the Government consider bus services to be.

However, the Government also recognise that improvements can and must be made, so earlier this year they outlined their plans for buses in a document entitled, Green Light for Better Buses. The proposals include reforming bus subsidy, improving competition, improving local authority capability in tendering, incentivising partnership working and multi-operator ticketing, and making bus information and ticketing easier to access for all, particularly young people. Here, I pay tribute to the work of my honourable friend Mr Norman Baker, a Minister who is absolutely committed to public transport.

There is no doubt that we are operating in challenging economic times, and this is no different for bus operators. The Government want to ensure that the bus market is still attractive to operators, both large and small, by ensuring that funding is allocated in the fairest way while giving the best value for money to taxpayers. However, we recognise the problems that are experienced by smaller operators.

The Government have recently launched a consultation on the future of the bus service operators’ grant, which is paid to bus operators—I shall say more about this in a moment. The grant is currently paid direct to bus operators in a fairly blunt and untargeted way that is related to fuel consumption. Some local authorities have told us that they can make the bus subsidy deliver better value for money by working in partnership with their bus operators to grow the bus market. That is what the better bus areas are intended to do, and the available top-up fund will give them an additional incentive to innovate.

The better bus area policy relies strongly on partnership with commercial bus operators rather than on contractual relationships. Thus, better bus areas are quite distinct from quality contract schemes where all bus services would be tendered and the bus service operators’ grant automatically devolved to local authorities. The characteristics of local bus markets vary, so different solutions will be appropriate in different local areas. The Government believe that it is for local authorities to decide which route they should pursue.

The Government are committed to protecting the national bus travel concession, which is of huge benefit to around 11 million people, allowing free off-peak travel anywhere in England. This generous concession provides older and disabled people with greater freedom, independence and a lifeline to their community. It enables access to facilities in and beyond their local area and helps these people to keep in touch with family and friends. It can also bring benefits to the wider economy.

There is no statutory obligation to provide discounted-price travel to young people but many commercial and publicly funded reductions are available. I have been encouraged to see that in Norfolk, prompted by the council’s successful bid to the better bus area fund last year, several local bus operators are working in partnership with the county council to introduce a reduced bus fare for 16 to 19 year-olds. I welcome this initiative and hope to see more like it.

I will try to answer as many questions as possible. Obviously, I will write where I am unable to do so. Both the noble Lord, Lord Snape, and my noble friend Lord Bradshaw asked me about the Traffic Management Act. Local councils and TfL already have powers to enforce moving traffic conventions, including bus lanes, cycle lanes, yellow box junctions, “no U-turns” and “no entry” signs, et cetera. Authorities outside London that have taken civil enforcement powers can enforce moving traffic conventions in bus lanes. Over 80% of authorities already have these powers. The Government support the remainder taking those powers on.

We recognise that there is a strong desire from some local authorities outside London to have all the extra powers in Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act to enforce all types of moving traffic offences, as those in London do. We are considering this, but Ministers want to be sure of the traffic benefits of extending these powers outside London and have therefore written to Nottingham and Sheffield as part of the city deals process, proposing some projects to analyse the traffic benefits of implanting Part 6 in these regions.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about funding a quality contract through a better bus area. Areas intending to pursue a quality contract scheme may also choose to pursue a better bus area. However, we would need to understand how this would work, both with and without a quality contract. Moreover, BBAs are strongly based on a consensual approach with bus operators. Again, we need to understand how this would work in a quality contract area where the bus operators could easily change. This is a consultation and we are interested to know whether and how this could work.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw talked about the cost of bus fares and suggested that they are too high and rising. Overall, fares were the same level in March 2011 as in March 2010, with a 2% decrease in non-metropolitan areas and increases of 0.9% in metropolitan areas and 1.4% in London. Across the country, fares can be quite variable, with a wide range of ticket types.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, talked about the problems of young people and high fares. Of course, bus fares can be a high proportion of a young person’s income. The noble Lord talked about the problems of job hunting and suggested that we needed a simpler process for young unemployed people to claim their travel expenses. The Department for Work and Pensions provides a range of support with travel costs for the unemployed through Jobcentre Plus, which is best placed to decide who needs support with transport costs.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw asked what was being done to reduce antisocial behaviour on public transport. I recently experienced an extremely distressing incident on a train, so I know how much of a problem this is. A wide variety of people and organisations are involved in helping to reduce antisocial behaviour and to deal with it when it occurs. These may be transport operators, local authorities, local police and PTEs, Transport for London, town centre managers, and many others. They may deliver measures in partnership with or through others, such as voluntary organisations.

The department has convened a public transport crime liaison group, chaired by my honourable friend Norman Baker, bringing together passenger representative groups, police, local authorities and operators to hear about their work on reducing crime and to share best practice. I recognise that this is a serious problem.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw talked about the problem of increased fuel prices of 58% due to the decrease in BSOG. We are determined to bring down the deficit. BSOG must help to achieve that, and the 20% reduction did just that. We are now looking at making the remaining BSOG more efficient.

How much has the deficit been increased or reduced by freezing fuel duty for motorists generally?

That is a rather wider question, and I would be delighted to write to the noble Lord on that.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw talked about ring-fencing BSOG. It is vital that local authorities have flexibility to use funds to best effect. However, it is also important not to get turbulence in the bus market when changes take place as we reform the BSOG, so we will ring-fence BSOG for tendered buses for a transitional period.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, asked about BSOG in rural areas. There are no plans to cut BSOG total. BSOG for tendered services will be devolved to local transport authorities. There are lots of them in rural areas, and therefore more flexibility for local authorities best to support bus services as they see fit. Commercial BSOG outside BBAs will remain the same for now, but how we apply it will be reviewed later.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw asked how much the Competition Commission inquiry cost the taxpayer. I do not have the figure to hand, but I will write to him. He also asked about better bus area bids excluding population areas under 100,000. We have yet to issue guidance on the criteria for designating BBAs for devolved BSOG. However, we will be looking for proposals that can help to grow the economy and reduce carbon emissions. BBA 2012 was mainly aimed at large urban areas as being more able to meet the criteria.

The final point that I can address is whether there is any incentive for better bus speeds to take driver management systems, such as RIBAS, into account when bus systems are assessed. The criteria against which better bus area bids were judged included reduction in carbon emissions, which indirectly would offer a potential incentive for operators to use driver management systems such as RIBAS, given their positive impact on fuel efficiency and carbon emissions. The long-term goal of decoupling bus subsidy from fuel consumption will incentivise greater fuel efficiency within bus service operator fleets, which, in turn, should incentivise the use of driver management systems.

The Minister has several times referred to subsidy to bus operators in respect of things such as concessionary fares. That is a subsidy to the passenger; it is not a subsidy to the bus industry.

My Lords, I accept my noble friend’s point.

The Government believe in buses. The vision is for a better bus with more of the attributes passengers want: more punctual, interconnected services, an even greener and more fully wheelchair-accessible fleet and the wide availability of smart ticketing. A more attractive, more competitive, greener bus network will encourage more people on to buses, create growth and cut carbon.

House adjourned at 5.04 pm.