House of Lords
Thursday, 14 March 2013.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
My Lords, the UK plays a leading role on tax transparency internationally, but it is not possible to extend UK disclosure rules to other countries. Parliament has limited powers to legislate for territories outside the UK. The Government have other policies to assist developing countries more directly by, for example, building their capacity to establish and maintain effective tax systems of their own.
I thank the Minister for that response. David Cameron’s pledge to tackle tax avoidance as part of the UK presidency of the G8 needs to move from words to deeds. We cannot use the need for international action as an excuse for going at the pace of the slowest country. The UK should be a global leader, so will the Minister confirm that the Government will use their position at the G8 to make serious proposals that will make a substantial difference to the revenues of the poorest countries in the world?
My Lords, I think the Government are a global leader in this area. We are taking a lead at the G8, and have taken the lead in the OECD to get the international tax rules changed. However, the other component that we are also taking a lead in is helping poorer countries to develop their own tax collection abilities. For example, work that HMRC has done in Ethiopia resulted in a sevenfold rise in the amount of tax collected in that country in the nine years from 2002.
Can the Minister tell me why, on the Inland Revenue tax return that one has to complete, one is asked to specify if one belongs to any approved tax-avoidance scheme? Can he tell me how a tax-avoidance scheme gets to be an approved tax-avoidance scheme, and what exactly that means on your Inland Revenue tax return?
My Lords, there is something called DOTAS—the disclosure of tax avoidance schemes—which was introduced in, I think, 2004 and requires people who have come up with a tax wheeze to consult HMRC. If HMRC believes that it is a legal scheme, it gives it a number. That is the number you are supposed to put on your tax return if you subscribe to that scheme.
My Lords, will the Government agree that both transparency and, as the Minister has already said, capacity, are absolutely vital here? Will they ensure that everywhere the UK provides budget support to a developing country, one of the key elements of that budget support is building the capacity for the right laws, the enforcement, and the collection of taxes to be in place inside that country?
Yes. This is an area to which DfID is giving increasing priority. Last year we supported 48 programmes in 20 countries and spent £20 million in this area. Of course, the extent to which we can do it in any country depends on an assessment of that country’s capacity to take advice and act on it.
My Lords, I very much support the GAAR, the general anti-abuse rule, which the Government are bringing in to deal with abusive tax avoidance, but would the Minister agree that the version that the Government are looking at is very narrow, with the double reasonableness test? If it proves ineffective, would it not be wise to review that test sooner rather than later?
The road to the GAAR, as it were, was long and difficult. As the noble Baroness will know, it was resolutely opposed by the party opposite when it was in government. We are making a proportionate start, and hope that it will be successful in dealing with the most egregious tax avoidance schemes. The great thing about it is that it is a deterrent. It will definitely be kept under review, but it is a big step forward, and we should not underestimate that.
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned tax avoidance in the context of the G8, which this country is hosting later this year. Are there any plans to involve HMRC in discussions on the Deauville process with regard to the Arab countries in transition that want or need to look again at their tax systems?
My Lords, I think there is a willingness on the part of HMRC and the Government more generally to work with any country that seeks to do that. As I say, we are already working with 20 countries. In recent months, DfID and HMRC have been looking together at how to put together a business case to allocate more resources to this area. The interesting thing about it is that this is a relatively new area. We have realised that we have expertise that can make a big difference to a whole raft of developing countries, and we are very keen now to capitalise on it.
Will my noble friend accept that when British companies are involved in tax avoidance schemes abroad, it invariably has a British dimension, and that, sadly, some tax avoidance schemes are plain fraudulent? Is it not therefore essential that HMRC should have much more and better quality staff? Frankly, at the moment, there is a gross inequality of arms.
I absolutely agree, which is why the Government have put nearly £1 billion of funding into this area and why we have reversed the cut of 10,000 compliance staff that was made under the last Government. There are now 2,500 additional people in that area. That is why the people we are recruiting for this are increasingly highly specialised.
My Lords, what consideration are the Government giving to persuading the G8 to require multinational corporations to produce country-by-country reporting of their tax payments so that not only can the tax authorities in developing countries be better informed about what these companies are paying but the people of those countries can be better informed, so that they can hold those companies and their own states better to account?
The Government support country-by-country reporting for the extractive industries, where some of the worst abuses are taking place. We are currently looking at broader proposals for country-by-country reporting. On the point about expanding the principle more widely, we want to make sure that we get the costs and benefits right.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that the important thing, as we have heard, is to get global companies to pay their fair share of taxes everywhere, including in Britain? One way in which to ensure that we get more from them would be to look again at the transfer pricing regime.
Absolutely. Because the transfer pricing regime is based on international rules, we have put more resources into the OECD process, which is moving forward reasonably quickly. An interim report was produced last month, and there is now a recognition that the rules have to be changed among the major European countries and the major countries in the G20. I sincerely hope that the rules will be changed.
Care Quality Commission
My Lords, the Government were encouraged that almost three-quarters of the domiciliary care agencies inspected by the CQC for the review were found to be meeting essential standards.
As the regulator of health and adult social care, the CQC has a range of powers to ensure that services are safe and of good quality. The CQC has the Government’s full support to take firm action where it finds services are unacceptable or failing.
I thank the noble Earl for his response and welcome the CQC’s positive findings on the 75% of home care services it inspected. However, the 25% of failing providers are a cause for deep concern, particularly as regards the number of late or missed calls and their complete failure to have systems to document, assess or monitor the quality of care they are supposed to deliver. Where there is a live-in carer, late or missed calls can at least be managed in some way, even if the cared-for person cannot be got out of bed. However, if people are on their own, the consequences are deeply distressing and can be very serious. What information does the department have nationally across the sector about this very worrying issue? What action is being taken to address the problem? Should we not ensure that all providers are required to keep records of the numbers, reasons for and remedial actions taken for missed and late calls, including refunding charges to self-funders or to the local authority?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right: there is no room for complacency in this area. Care has to be right every time, not just three-quarters of the time. I noted from the CQC’s report that, although it recorded a number of common issues undermining the majority of good home care from a significant minority of providers, many of these were fairly minor. However, the noble Baroness has alighted on a very important failing among several of the agencies inspected. I do not have national information on late and missed calls but in the work that we are doing with local authorities, providers and, indeed, the CQC, all of whom share responsibility for driving improvement in services, this will inevitably be an area of focus for it.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that while the examples of good practice are very welcome, what was most surprising was the comment on safeguarding, which noted that many services are not meeting the requirements of good practice in relation to reporting to local authorities and have out-of-date procedures? Bearing in mind the plethora of advice from the Department of Health, what do the Government intend to do to bring these services into line as these are the most serious cases, where people are in real danger?
My Lords, strengthening adult safeguarding arrangements is a key priority for the Government. We are committed to preventing and reducing the risk of abuse and neglect to adults who are in vulnerable situations and generally to supporting people to maintain control over their lives. As the noble Baroness may know, we are legislating to put safeguarding adults boards on a stronger statutory footing. That will better equip them both to prevent abuse and to respond to it when it occurs.
My Lords, the Care Quality Commission has a full range of powers open to it which enables it to take action where it discovers a major failing in the quality of care. We are not aware that that menu of options needs to be expanded. I will write to my noble friend as regards specific instances, having consulted the CQC, but I do not think that there is a general call to expand the CQC’s powers in this area.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl will welcome this report, as my noble friend has, because there are many good news stories in it. I am sorry that I have had time to read the report only quickly. In the inspection, the Care Quality Commission looked for opportunities to maintain older people in their homes, rather than have them come into hospital; that is hugely important. The evidence is that if an elderly person turns up at A&E at 8 pm, they will be in hospital for many days, and that is not always necessary. Can we look more closely at how, in the care that is given, we can prevent people coming into hospital?
The noble Baroness is right to focus on that issue. There are a number of things that we can do. We will shortly introduce new minimum standards to improve training for care staff, which will help in that regard. We aim to double the number of apprentices in care services by 2017 because there is clearly a workforce imperative here. We are proposing to expand the current care ambassador scheme, which promotes a positive image of the sector. That again will assist in recruitment. We are also launching an online tool to support recruitment and provide information about working in care and support, all of which is designed to address workforce concerns and concerns around skills.
My Lords, will the noble Earl assure the House that the Government, when considering the report referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, will look at it in the context of another report published today by a House of Lords committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin? Together, these reports pose one of the greatest challenges to our society, and it is very important that the Government take these matters as seriously as possible, for the benefit of us all.
My Lords, last year the Government announced their intention to end the practice of domiciliary care visits being planned on the basis of a few minutes. In the current economic circumstances, can the Minister say how the Government plan to make that intention a reality?
My Lords, my noble friend will know that in the care and support White Paper we set out our intentions to improve quality standards in social care, increase the capacity and enhance the capability of the social care workforce, ensure that people have better information about care providers, and improve the performance of the regulator. Within that spectrum of actions, we will be looking carefully at how precisely to deliver that ambition to which my noble friend rightly refers.
Crime: Detection Rates
My Lords, this Government do not assess the performance of police forces through centrally mandated targets. However, we are ensuring that the public and PCCs have access to consistent and comprehensive information on all crime outcomes. This supports police accountability, as the public can now hold the police to account for how they respond to crime in their area.
My Lords, I am not sure that that really answers my Question. Perhaps I can be clearer. Government cuts mean that 15,000 fewer police officers will be in place by the time of the next election. It is not therefore rocket science to understand that last year 30,000 fewer crimes were solved. The Minister will be aware that forensic evidence is a key part of bringing criminals to justice. Can I direct him to yesterday’s evidence from Michael Turner QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, to the Science and Technology Committee of the other place? He said that following the Government’s abolition of the highly regarded Forensic Science Service, the quality of expert witnesses being used by the crown was now, in his words, “variable”. Is the Minister aware of the frustration of so many investigating police officers who are experiencing serious delays in getting the forensic evidence reports they have taken at the scene of crime? They are not getting them in time. Given the questions on the quality and delays in the system in getting a forensic evidence service, does the Minister think that scrapping the Forensic Science Service was a good idea?
I have been to a number of forensic science laboratories in the course of my work, and I have seen that the quality of work being done there is second to none. Indeed, on DNA activity in particular, we are ahead of the game. It is important to emphasise that the background painted by the noble Baroness is inaccurate to the extent that she failed to recognise that recorded crime was down by 10% in the first two years of this Government.
My Lords, perhaps I may get slightly more specific. I have anecdotal evidence of a rise in Muslim hate crime in this country, which apparently is recorded only by the Metropolitan Police. Will my noble friend use his best efforts to encourage other PCCs to make such recordings, because otherwise we will not know exactly what is going on?
My Lords, in fact the disaggregation of crime analysis is going to make it much easier to discover these figures. My noble friend makes a very good point. I know that colleagues in government are working with the Home Office to make sure that hate crimes, wherever they occur, are properly dealt with.
As the noble Baroness will know, some concerns have been raised by the Director of Public Prosecutions about false allegations of rape. His report clearly shows that these cases are very few and far between and that police forces should be encouraged to take rape allegations more seriously, as indeed they should any allegations of forced marriage.
My Lords, does the Minister share my concern that the Metropolitan Police are spending £4 million a year on international travel and more than £1.5 million a year on providing chauffeur-driven cars for ACPO officers—money that could be better spent on employing 80 police officers to deal with crime detection?
That may well be so, and my noble friend makes a very good point. The governance of the Metropolitan Police lies, of course, in the hands of the Mayor of London, and I know of no more vigorous pursuer of value for money than the Mayor of London.
Indeed, it has. At the moment, we are evaluating a consultation that we have had on a new code of practice for CCTV and its use. It is an extremely useful tool when properly used, and it is very important that we recognise that it needs to be properly used in our communities.
With respect to a previous answer on the costs of international travel, will the Minister please recognise that crime is no longer local? It is international and, indeed, transnational, and that trend is being accelerated by cybercrime. When he looks with a sceptical eye at these costs, will he make sure that he does not debilitate the police in carrying out their job of tackling international crime?
The noble Lord makes a very good point. Indeed, we have police officers embedded in and working in overseas countries because of the international nature of many crime networks. It is greatly to the advantage of this country’s fight against crime in this country that we have intelligence about these things. On the other hand, I think my noble friend was right to challenge expenditure. It is right that all public bodies are challenged on costs, because it is up to them to evidence why it is important that this money is spent.
My Lords, the Government are deeply concerned by reports of the recent violence in Bangladesh. Sadly, there have been more than 70 deaths and many injured as a result of the recent protests. There are reports of 24 Hindu temples, 122 houses and dozens of shops being destroyed across Bangladesh. We deplore attacks on places of worship and private property and have urged the Government to ensure that investigations are conducted and that those responsible are held to account. As I said during my recent visit to Bangladesh, violence and vandalism have no place in legitimate protest.
My Lords, I very much welcome the statement issued by my noble friend yesterday condemning the violence which, as she said, has led to the deaths of more than 70 people, most of whom died at the hands of the security forces. Have the Government of Bangladesh ordered the security forces not to use live ammunition against demonstrators unless it is absolutely unavoidable, in accordance with the UN basic principles on the use of force by law enforcement officials? With regard to the widespread attacks on temples, houses and other property of religious minorities—a repeat of what happened after the 2001 elections—will the Government of Bangladesh pay full compensation to the communities for the losses that they have suffered, as Sheikh Hasina promised to the citizens of Ramu, who suffered a similarly gratuitous attack by extremists last September?
Officials are currently confirming whether the Bangladeshi security forces are operating in accordance with the UN basic principles on disturbances. A briefing for heads of mission was held by the Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni, on 7 March in which she said that law enforcement agencies would deploy force in situations of self-defence and to maintain public order, but that they would first use other means of crowd control. She also informed in a briefing that the district administrations are distributing relief and reconstruction material to the families that have been affected by the violence. We continue to urge the Government of Bangladesh and others in Bangladesh to urge restraint in this violence.
I express my deep condolences via the House, if I may, for those who have lost their lives in this conflict. As a child growing up and witnessing the liberation war, I understand deeply the wishes of Bangladeshi people to call for justice for those who have committed atrocities. Will the Minister recognise the current serious difficulties faced by the Bangladeshi Government and people, and urge the Government to redouble their efforts to ensure that all judicial and electoral processes are not only transparent and accountable but are seen to be so?
The Government have been fully supportive of the International Crimes Tribunal, which tries people who are alleged to have committed crimes during the 1971 war. The Government feel that it is important for those trials to take place to dispel the ongoing culture of impunity when these issues arise in times of conflict. We have urged for that process to be transparent and for it to be done in accordance with the rule of law. However, we condemn the violence that has escalated as a result of those sentences, most recently after the verdict on 28 February of the vice-president of Jamaat-e-Islami.
My Lords, I welcome the statement of the noble Baroness. I draw to her attention that yesterday I met a deputation of some of the minority organisations based in this country, who clearly identified the role of fundamentalist organisations such as Jamaat-e-Islami and the fanatical student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir. They are the people who are perpetrating a substantial amount of crime against temples and the religious minorities. Will the Minister, first, bring that to the attention of the Bangladeshi Government? Secondly, will she meet those organisations because they have more information than that supplied by the Minister?
My noble friend raises an important point. I am aware that there was a protest on 13 March, at which a number of minority communities originating from Bangladesh expressed their concern. We are currently investigating who is behind much of this violence and we have said clearly that we expect all parties to exercise restraint.
There should be such opportunities, and that was certainly the basis of many discussions I held with Sheikh Hasina, the Foreign Minister and, indeed, the leader of the Opposition, Khaleda Zia. It is important that these elections are inclusive and free from violence. There is an ongoing debate in Bangladesh about the interplay between political parties and whether they should be secular or there should be a religious base to them. When I was in Bangladesh, I urged all parties that it is important to ensure that political parties are defeated through the ballot box rather than through violence.
My Lords, last week we had an excellent debate on the Commonwealth and the new Commonwealth charter, and I wonder whether some of these issues could be pursued with our Commonwealth partners? Could pressure be put on the authorities in Bangladesh to make sure not only that there are free elections, but that the violent atrocities cease?
The noble Baroness will be aware of the long history of political dispute within Bangladesh, and that it can spill over into our own communities of Bangladeshi origin on our streets. It is of concern to us, as part of the Commonwealth family, that these elections should take place in a fair and inclusive environment—there has been some talk of certain parties boycotting them—and one in which there is no violence. It is also of concern to me in terms of my domestic portfolio that this does not spill over into tension. We have seen increasing levels of tension in, for example, Whitechapel, as the result of demonstrations and counterdemonstrations.
Alcohol: Minimum Pricing
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat an Answer given by my honourable friend Mr Jeremy Browne to an Urgent Question in the House of Commons earlier today. The Answer is as follows:
“I am aware that there have been a significant number of media reports and stories about the Government’s proposal to introduce a minimum unit price. I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the Government’s position. The Government are determined to find the best way to diminish the misuse of alcohol. Over 44% of violent crime is alcohol-related. Fighting, anti-social behaviour and public drunkenness are familiar sights in many city centres. There were 1.2 million alcohol-related hospital admissions in 2010-11. So in March last year, the Government published their alcohol strategy, which set out a range of measures to tackle the harms caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
The Government have already introduced a wide set of reforms to tackle binge drinking and the corrosive effect it has on individuals and our communities. We have rebalanced the Licensing Act in favour of local communities by, for instance, removing the “vicinity test” to ensure that anyone, no matter where they live, can have input into a decision to grant or revoke a licence. We have introduced a late night levy, making those businesses that sell alcohol late at night contribute towards the cost of policing and wider local authority action. We have also introduced early morning alcohol restriction orders, enabling local areas to restrict the sale of alcohol late at night in all or part of their area if there are problems.
The Home Office has also recently consulted on a range of new proposals set out in its Alcohol Strategy, including a ban on multi-buy promotions in shops and off-licences to reduce excessive alcohol consumption; a review of the mandatory licensing conditions to ensure that they are sufficiently targeting problems such as irresponsible promotions in pubs and clubs; health as a new alcohol licensing objective for cumulative impacts so that licensing authorities can consider alcohol-related health harms when managing the problems relating to the number of premises in their area; cutting red tape for responsible businesses to reduce the burden of regulation while maintaining the integrity of the licensing system; and the introduction of minimum unit pricing.
This public consultation opened on 28 November and closed on 6 February. We have received a large number of responses covering a very wide range of views which included those of members of the public, the police and licensing authorities, health organisations, alcohol producers and retailers, trade bodies and charities.
On minimum unit pricing, there are powerful arguments on both sides. We have to ensure that we base our decision on a careful consideration of all the representations. We are evaluating the data in a precise way and will announce our decision when this careful evaluation is completed”.
I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I know he sought to clarify the position but I am not sure he really has. In the final paragraph of the Statement, he said:
“On minimum unit pricing … We have to ensure that we base our decision on a careful consideration of all the representations”,
in relation to the consultation. That consultation document states:
“In the Strategy, the Government committed to introducing a minimum unit price. However, in other areas, this consultation seeks views on the introduction of policies”.
It refers to “other areas”. The consultation was not about minimum unit pricing. Less than a year ago, the Home Secretary said that,
“the problem is now so acute that we need to go further. We will therefore introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/3/12; col. 1071.]
There were no ifs, no buts, no qualification and no equivocation. So determined were the Government, they even refused to consult on the principle. What changed?
I think I can reassure the noble Baroness that a thorough consultation has taken place. We needed to consult on a clear proposition, which the Government presented in their consultation. We needed, in other words, to understand people’s views on a proposal, which was the whole purpose of the consultation. We have had a large number of responses, which I think I have indicated were finely balanced, from a range of correspondents and they need careful consideration. No decision has been made.
I think the noble Lord would admit that that is a rather loaded question. However, I am prepared to answer it because of course health considerations are extremely important. There are huge economic costs, as well as the social costs, in the excessive consumption of alcohol. That is clear. What might well divide the House in debate would not be that issue but the question of what is the most effective way of dealing with it.
My Lords, excess drinking is a public heath disaster, costs the nation a fortune and wrecks families. Implementing minimum alcohol pricing is evidence-based, easy to implement and easy to understand. Will the Minister tell the House what arguments could be used not to do it?
As my noble friend will know, the Scottish Government have legislated to provide for minimum unit pricing in Scotland. Unfortunately, that has been challenged in the courts. This is not an easy measure to bring forward and that is why, in their consultation, the Government wanted to make sure that they took the views of all sections so that they were able to formulate an answer to this issue that was satisfactory from the health point of view and would lead to an enforceable and workable system.
My Lords, I share with the Minister the grave disappointment in my own NHS trust on hearing the decision not to pursue this. The noble Lord and others have already described this but in our A&E department—not just on a Saturday night but on many other nights—lots of young people are there in a very bad state of health, which obviously impinges on the other people who are trying to be seen. The Prime Minister said that he will do something about it. Can he please let us know what that is and how quickly that might be done?
I reassure the noble Baroness that no decision has been made. Nothing I have said today should imply that a decision has been made. We are in the process of evaluating the consultation procedure. As I say, we have had a great number of responses. On an issue of this importance, it is only just that we seek to get it right, and that is the position of the Government.
My Lords, having brought the licensing laws through this House in 2011, which at the time had support across the House because there was recognition that the abuse of alcohol that is outlined today is really a very serious problem, I ask my noble friend not to be deflected in any way from putting together a package of changes—it needs to be a package—that will address this problem. Having observed how this Question was introduced in another place earlier this morning, I very much regret the party-political slanging match that it turned into.
My noble friend is perfectly correct that this demands a serious discussion and debate. The Government’s proposals for the consultation are in the form of a package of different measures, all of which are designed to reduce the health impact of excessive alcohol consumption. My noble friend makes a very good point.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Does the Minister agree that behaviour change is extremely difficult to influence, as has been shown by our Select Committee? Does he also agree that the one thing that has been clearly shown by research to really work is changing the pricing of a commodity?
That is why this proposal was originally put forward. That is the premise under which we operate, but it is not the total answer. I think the noble Lord would admit that there are other elements besides price, such as availability. As the noble Lord will know, we face a much more liberal licensing regime as a result of the previous Government’s determination to extend licensing hours, so availability is another factor. But he is right to point to behaviour, because there are huge differences between those of us who live in Nordic countries, where alcohol consumption per capita is very high, and those who live in Mediterranean countries and the like, where there seems to be better self-ordered restraint on the consumption of alcohol.
My Lords, while accepting that it is utterly laudable that any Government should pay very great attention to the possibility of curbing alcohol abuse by pricing, I urge upon the Minister an alternative consideration as well. As the Minister will remember, the current Licensing Act has a provision—I think in Section 157, but I could be wrong—to punish publicans for serving alcohol to persons who have already had too much to drink. Will the Government concentrate very much on this aspect as well? If proper sanctions are fully and practically applied, this could be a very powerful weapon against alcoholism.
Indeed, the discipline that needs to be shown by those who retail alcohol, whether in shops, supermarkets or bars, is a very important part of the solution to this problem. We know that local authorities are taking the issue of underage drinking much more seriously than has been the case. The responsibility must lie with the person selling the alcohol to make sure that it is not made available to people who clearly have had enough.
My Lords, many of us have some anxiety about what appears to be the disproportionate influence of lobbyists in Whitehall. Some time ago the Prime Minister expressed his anxiety about the growth of the lobbying industry and the possible susceptibility of politicians to lobbying. Will the Minister say what the Government are doing to ensure that as civil servants develop policies for the consideration of Ministers, they are appropriately and robustly independent of disproportionate influence from outside on behalf of sectional interests?
This is another issue, but a very important one. I can truly say that when it was presented to me some time ago—I believe I had a Question on it in this House—there was no suggestion whatever that the officials presenting the alcohol strategy to me were in any way influenced by pressures from any particular quarter. It has certainly not been my experience. The issue raised by the noble Lord is very serious, but I do not think that it is a factor in this case. Indeed, I would not countenance it myself.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Order
My Lords, I hope that the House will not approve this Motion. Standing Orders are there for a purpose. At the very least, the Leader of the House, or in this case the Chief Whip, should give us reasons for dispensing with this Standing Order. In my view there is plenty of time for this Motion to be discussed and for the proper procedures to be followed, or there would have been had the Government not extended the Easter Recess at short notice and without any prior consultation. This is causing great problems for Members, for the House and for Committees of this House.
Moreover, there is a constitutional problem, because the Commons will be sitting when we are having the third week of our Easter Recess. This is creating problems with Joint Committees that have already evidenced themselves and with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, whose executive were due to meet all-party groups that week. Statements will be made in the other place and will not be able to be repeated here, and we will not be able to take part in debating them.
This will create administrative problems. Already a number of banqueting events have had to be cancelled as a result of this decision. There are legislative problems. A whole raft of Private Members’ Bills is waiting to be discussed, yet we are being sent away for an extra week during the Easter Recess. There are five reports from Select Committees on the Order Paper. There is a long list of Members seeking debates on a wide range of subjects, and Select Committees have deadlines for submitting reports. These are just a few of the problems caused by the unilateral and precipitate decision to extend the Easter Recess.
I mean no disrespect to the noble Baroness, for whom I have great respect, but I am slightly disappointed and surprised that the Leader of the House is not here to explain why we have to take the stages of the Bill together on one day. We could have done it, we could be here and we could be sitting, but we have now been told that we are to have an extra week’s holiday.
I hope the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing this Motion and reconsider the announcement that was made last week.
My Lords, the noble Lord is being a little innovative in stretching his comments well beyond the matter on the Order Paper. However, because I am courteous, I will seek to address those in a moment.
First, I assure the House that the noble Lord is completely wrong in his allegation that even if the noble Lord, Lord Hill, were standing here instead of me, this Motion is in any way out of the ordinary. It is absolutely the normal procedure for these matters. The Motion itself simply states that Standing Order 46 should,
“allow the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill to be taken through all its remaining stages that day”.
This always happens, regardless of who are in Government. The Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill is a supply Bill, and it has been certified as a money Bill. The noble Lord, of course, was in another place, and he knows as well as anyone what the rules are with regard to that. He has been in this House a little time, so he will know that this happens every time a money Bill comes forward.
In all processes, all stages are taken formally and there is no substantive Second Reading. Even if we sat from now until kingdom come, the stages would not be taken separately. If noble Lords would like to look at the Companion at some stage—I am not suggesting a mass rush for the Printed Paper Office—they will see that the appropriate entry is at paragraph 8.198.
As I have said, the noble Lord has been a little cheeky, but it is his nature. He has kind of extended this to, “Ey up, why have you decided that we shall have an extra week off?”. Well, it is not quite like that. The job of the Government is to ensure that the time of this House is used to best effect, and it will be so. This House is different from another place. Indeed, it decided that it did not wish to be elected or to ape another place; it wishes to retain its strong independent character. We are going to use time to best advantage, and that can be achieved even by having one extra week after Easter. However, over a calendar year, as noble Lords will know, matters even out.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Order
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, this topic is discussed less these days in this Chamber, yet it is of paramount importance to the country’s future stability and prosperity. Today, I shall set out for the House the major effort that is under way, both in the region and from the international community, to work towards building a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan now and after 2014. In doing so, I shall reflect on how Afghanistan and its neighbours will begin to take greater ownership of their own peace, security and prosperity, supported by international partners.
Until now, debate on Afghanistan has tended to focus on the military efforts of ISAF, yet as we move towards drawdown and look beyond 2014, we must look back at history and learn from what has gone before. These lessons have and will continue to inform our decision to maintain our commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014. Once our role in Afghanistan moves from combat to support and training, in which we are already very involved, regional relationships will be even more crucial to building a strong and independent future for Afghanistan in the heart of Asia.
At the Istanbul conference in November 2011, the Heart of Asia countries, including the central Asian states, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, affirmed their support for a stable Afghanistan. Following that conference, they stated:
“We remain convinced that a peaceful Afghanistan, with functioning institutions and strengthened security forces, is key to successful regional cooperation. We remember that the international community and the region are not separated and emphasize that we all have a stake in the security and stability of the region”.
Supporting countries, including the United Kingdom, welcomed this statement. That conference launched the Istanbul Process.
I shall consider today the role of regional players in an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process before outlining how I see the role of the region in longer-term stability and security. Finally, I shall set out for the House the role of regional and global partners in Afghanistan’s economic development, helping it to become an independent, prosperous and self-sufficient state.
Before looking more closely at Afghanistan’s regional relationships and the important roles that they play, I should like to put this discussion into context by setting out how the UK sees its current role in Afghanistan and how both our role and our priorities will change between now and 2015. British troops are in Afghanistan to protect our national security. We are trying to support the building not of a perfect Afghanistan, but of an Afghanistan that does not again provide a safe haven for international terrorists. That is a difficult task, and we recognise the extraordinary courage of our service men and women.
In December, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would reduce force levels in Afghanistan to about 5,200 by the end of 2013. The Prime Minister has also said that the UK will not have any troops in a combat role in Afghanistan after 2014, but that we will maintain a long-term partnership with Afghanistan post-2014 through trade, diplomacy and development, as well as training, mentoring and funding the Afghan security forces.
On 28 January last year, the Prime Minister and President Karzai signed the Enduring Strategic Partnership document, which affirms our two nations’ shared interest in improving governance, the rule of law, economic and social development, security and cultural co-operation. During my visit to Afghanistan in October, I co-chaired with Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin the inaugural meeting of the joint commission overseeing the implementation of the enduring partnership agreement.
Development support will also remain crucial in the years to come. At the Tokyo conference in July last year, the UK committed to maintain its current level of development funding of £178 million per year up to 2017. In turn, the Afghan Government have committed to improvements in the rule of law, governance and human rights, including women’s rights, as part of the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework.
Women’s rights were a key theme of my recent visit to Afghanistan. I found women’s leaders upbeat about prospects for their country. They felt that the gains made on women’s rights would not be lost, but I agree that more must be done to improve the daily lives of the Afghan people, particularly women and girls. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made clear that tackling violence against women and girls will become a strategic priority for her department’s work in Afghanistan.
All of this demonstrates that our efforts in Afghanistan do not begin and end with military support. The international community has committed to continue its investment through to 2014 and beyond. The end of the ISAF mission next year does not mean an end to the support provided by the international community. Planning continues for the NATO-led follow-on mission that will continue to help, train and advise the Afghan security forces. The UK Government will continue to support governance and development in Afghanistan through the next decade, helping to ensure that the progress made to date is not lost.
Afghanistan and its region have a long recorded history. From the first century BC to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the countries around Afghanistan were part of the lucrative Silk Road trade route from China to Europe. Afghanistan formed a crossroads for trade routes across the region and a hub for commerce. As well as the trade connections, the region shares a long Islamic heritage, something that I have seen as I have been lucky enough to travel in the region over the past few years. When I visited Uzbekistan in April last year, I saw the Uzbeks’ Islamic heritage, visiting the great Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. I had the opportunity to discuss with my hosts their perceptions of Islamic identity and how this impacts on their sense of community, both nationally and regionally.
I have been closely involved in Pakistan since the Government were formed, both as Minister without Portfolio and now at the FCO. My dealings with Pakistanis and the Pakistani Government have been open, frank and in the spirit of friendship, and I sense a desire across political parties and others to build deeper relations with Afghanistan and an acknowledgement that stability and security in Afghanistan ultimately mean stability and security in Pakistan.
If noble Lords will permit, I will take this opportunity to mention the upcoming elections in Pakistan. They are a crucial milestone in Pakistan’s democratic history. It will be the first time in decades that there will have been a democratic transfer of power between one civilian Government and another after serving a full term. The elections are a vital step on the path to a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan. The new Government, whatever their make-up, will face some real challenges in their first 100 days, including a difficult economic situation and a critical energy shortfall. The UK is committed to working closely with Pakistan on these challenges. We can share our experiences of the need for tough decisions to deliver future growth and prosperity.
It is in the interests of all political parties that the elections are credible and acceptable to the Pakistani people, so that they have a mandate to meet those serious challenges. The elections will be managed by perhaps the most independent election commission that Pakistan has ever seen. The UK is supporting the election commission of Pakistan in its preparations through a three-year programme focused on sustainable capacity building and based on international best practice. For example, we are funding the training of election staff, helping to refine the electoral dispute resolution mechanism, enabling them to update their electoral operations system and supporting their voter education strategy.
The UK, along with the international community, is lobbying for greater registration of women in the elections. In 2008 there were, sadly, some areas where no women voted. The UK is supporting a civil society network to help disadvantaged groups to register on the electoral roll. For us, it is not about who is in power; it is about a democratic process, a system functioning within its constitutional framework and building greater accountability to its people.
A stable, peaceful Afghanistan remains critical to Pakistan, a point repeated by President Zardari at the Chequers summit in February this year. On my last visit to Afghanistan earlier this month, in meetings with Foreign Minister Rassoul and head of the Joint Secretariat of the High Peace Council, Massoum Stanekzai, I discussed the progress that had been made thus far in the Afghan-led peace process. Both Rassoul and Stanekzai welcomed the UK’s role in helping the Afghans and Pakistanis to work through some of the more difficult issues.
The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan has moved in a more positive direction in the past six months than it had for quite some time before. The difficulties encountered over the past 30 years have sometimes blinded both sides to the extent of their mutual interest. Their co-operation is essential to securing long-term security in the region, and indeed for our own national security.
Given our good relationships with both countries, the United Kingdom is happy to play a part in facilitating discussions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We recognise the importance of economic growth and the historic trade links through south Asia. It is for this reason that we believe strong trade agreements, such as the Afghanistan-Pakistan transit trade agreement, are important. Yet economic growth will be difficult in a challenging security environment.
The UK has been active in supporting greater co-operation on peace and security through the UK-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral process. This process began at the request of President Karzai and Prime Minister Ashraf last year. As a facilitating partner, we have encouraged ideas, identified areas of agreement and provided a forum for open dialogue.
We have now had three successful Prime Minister-level trilateral meetings, as well as a meeting at Foreign Minister level in December, which I attended with the Foreign Secretary and Foreign Ministers Rassoul and Rabbani Khar. At the September trilateral in the margins of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed that they would work towards a strategic partnership agreement. Both have since committed to signing such an agreement, which would pave the way to greater economic co-operation as well as co-operation on security and border management.
At the top of the agenda of the trilateral process is serious dialogue about the Afghan peace and reconciliation process. At Chequers, the three leaders made a clear public statement that they supported the opening of a Taliban political office in Doha. This sends a very clear message to the Taliban that now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan.
Other regional partners are also engaged in dialogue with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Turkish and Chinese Governments hold trilateral discussions with both countries, which we welcome, and this support for an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process is echoed around the region. During the Prime Minister’s recent visit to India, our Governments agreed to establish a new joint working group for a regular bilateral dialogue on peace, security and development in Afghanistan. The joint statement included language that supports a peaceful inter-Afghan dialogue on reconciliation. However, the role of the region goes beyond just supporting an Afghan-led peace process. Looking to the future of Afghanistan beyond 2014, the region must play an even greater role in promoting regional security.
A stable Afghanistan is essential for the whole region. For the central Asian states that share her borders, it is fundamentally important. As ISAF draws down, the central Asian states will face increased security challenges. Our commitment to Afghanistan and the region will go far beyond the end of active combat. We will continue to engage constructively with the region on its security concerns. Central Asia will play an important role not only in the future stability of Afghanistan but in the safe return of our troops and equipment. We are working with the Governments of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to agree transit agreements. We recognise the importance of regional fora where issues of wider regional security can be discussed outside a context of NATO and ISAF.
One such forum is the Istanbul Process, which seeks to improve relations between Afghanistan and its neighbours through increased political dialogue and a set of voluntary confidence-building measures that countries implement at their discretion. This is a unique process. It is led by the Afghans and owned by the region. The role of supporter countries and organisations includes the sharing of expertise and technical assistance and financial contributions to support the implementation of confidence-building measures. The UK is supporting confidence-building measures on disaster management, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, regional infrastructure and trade, commerce and investment opportunities.
By working together and helping to bring unity, we will support Afghanistan and the wider region. Projects such as the TAPI gas pipeline, which would link Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, and the construction of an electric power line, CASA 1000, from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan will support economic growth and co-operation alongside other processes such as the EU-Central Asia High-Level Dialogue on Security. We hope this co-operation will help with security issues in Afghanistan and facilitate greater trade and economic links throughout the region, which has such a deep shared trade history. We welcome other regional initiatives, such as the Asian Development Bank-led central Asia regional economic co-operation process, and are clear that all regional processes should seek to collaborate where possible to ensure co-operation and avoid duplication.
Beyond the political framework of the Istanbul Process, partners in the wider region and the Gulf are increasing their commitments to Afghanistan. We are working closely with India on joint efforts to promote sustainable development in Afghanistan. India has pledged $2 billion in aid to Afghanistan, making it the largest regional donor, and we are working with our Emirati partners on development co-operation in Afghanistan, including on infrastructure projects in Helmand. Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have enjoyed a long-lasting and deep friendship, and the kingdom remains committed to supporting Afghanistan through development projects. The UAE and other Gulf partners also have generous aid programmes for Afghanistan, which is important for developing confidence in the country’s future security, stability and peace.
We welcome China’s deepening commitment to Afghanistan. China has pledged $23.5 million in development aid this year and has brought Afghanistan into the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation as an observer. Russia is also strengthening its activity in Afghanistan, with a focus on economic assistance and investment in infrastructure.
As we look to the future of Afghanistan, we must consider how it can prosper without international aid. Afghanistan has a wealth of natural resources, estimated to be worth $1 trillion to $3 trillion, which has the potential to transform the Afghan economy. Companies from around the region have taken a keen interest in Afghanistan’s mineral wealth and have pledged to make a large investment in the extractive sector. A week ago, I met the Minister for Mines, Wahidullah Shahrani, who was in the UK for the mining, gas and oil investor forum hosted by the Prime Minister. At the forum, the Prime Minister announced the UK’s continued support for the Afghan Ministry of Mines of £10 million over the next three years to help the ministry manage and monitor contracts to ensure that the benefits of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth are felt by the Afghan people. We also discussed how Afghanistan can harness this wealth as it looks to develop a sustainable economy and move away from dependence on aid. Investment must lead to broad-based growth and job creation. This is a challenging task, but with the support of DfID, the Ministry of Mines is working hard to ensure that the Afghan people benefit from the huge mineral resource which is beneath their feet.
As we look to the future of Afghanistan, I have highlighted three main areas for regional co-operation: first, support for a political settlement; secondly, support for regional security; and thirdly, investment to build Afghanistan into a self-sustaining and prosperous state. Clearly the international community has a role in all three of these, and the UK will continue to work closely with Afghanistan and its neighbours. I look forward to noble Lords’ insights into the role of all the countries in the region and welcome the increasing engagement of all neighbouring countries at the heart of Asia. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who has introduced the subject with the characteristic fairness which we have come to expect of her, and with a great deal of historical learning. If I disagree with her from time to time those disagreements are largely minor and serve only to correct—as I see it—certain interpretations.
The UN-mandated military operations have been going on since 2001 and, as far as I can see, we have little to show for the past 12 years. Violence continues on all sides; rampant corruption is startling and visible. Afghanistan today is rated as 180 out of 183 countries; seven years ago, it had the honour of being 140 out of 183. There is a huge waste of resources. Money everywhere is wrongly used or used to buy people and corrupt the cultural life of the country. Violence has become a profitable industry. You only have to set up a little insurgent group and there are people who are ready to buy you or to offer you all kinds of services.
Ethnic divisions, happily, have abated a little, but they remain just as acute, and there is no stable political system. This has tended to happen despite the enormous amount of money and the enormous amount of political wisdom pouring in from all parts of the world—including from countries which cannot manage their own affairs but are very generous with advice. In spite of all that, why have we not succeeded in creating a reasonably stable political system in a small country?
I think that part of the reason is that we have been ignoring certain basic realties of Afghan life. Some 80% of it is rural, and 87% of its people earn their livelihood through agriculture-related activities. Many communities are separated by mountains and it can take days to reach them. There is an informal power structure based on ethnic, regional, tribal, clan and village loyalties. The centralised governance which the modern state presupposes and which everyone has kept recommending since the Bonn conference is simply not possible.
Afghanistan needs to evolve its own political structure and that structure cannot be imposed or propped up by outsiders. Afghanistan cannot relive somebody else’s history. We discovered that very painfully in India when the Constituent Assembly was trying to draft the constitution and realised that the modern nation state is simply not an option for India, and India did not opt for it.
One of the important things to bear in mind, therefore, is to stop outside interference except for the kind of aid and advice that it might need. We need to trust the people of Afghanistan to sort out their own differences. After all, they have lived together all these years; they want to live together; they share a future; they know—as the Minister said—that they have trillions of dollars that they can make proper use of; and they have their own children whom they would like to see educated. We need to trust the people of Afghanistan to evolve a structure which is appropriate to their own history, traditions and culture. A traditional loya jirga, for example, can be a good starting point.
In all this negative publicity we tend to forget that there are some powerful civil society movements in Afghanistan. In spite of having been a student of politics, I had not been aware of them until a few weeks ago, when I was addressing an important “Festival of Ideas” in Goa. I spoke on one day, and the person who addressed the meeting the next day was Dr Yacoobi, an Afghan professor of education in the United States who decided to return to Afghanistan and to take on the Taliban on her own. She said that girls will be educated—they will be sent to schools and the schools will not be touched. She relied on persuasion, on power and on organisation, reaching out to the daughters and wives of the Taliban leaders themselves, telling them that the future was theirs if only they would go to school. Slowly and slowly, despite threats to her life, she has been able to create a fairly powerful movement. It is not surprising that she, along with many others, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Movements of this kind exist. Society has a certain vitality, if the Taliban would only allow it to breathe—which they do not seem to be doing.
I am sorry to say that Pakistan’s role, which could have been and should be useful, has not been terribly helpful. It has provided backing, safe haven and even military training to insurgent groups, including the Taliban. It is using those groups, particularly the Haqqani network, to attack Indian interests and targets in Afghanistan; for example, the Indian embassy in 2008 and 2009 and even the United States embassy in 2011. Not surprisingly, the recently retired chief of staff of the United States called the Haqqani network the “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI. Sadly, if you try to provoke violence of this kind, or support terrorism in other countries, it has a blowback effect on your own. The result is that the Pakistan Taliban uses Afghan territory as a safe haven and a springboard to launch attacks on Pakistani troops, which we all bitterly regret. In other words, Pakistan, by supporting insurgent movements in Afghanistan, is paying the price in terms of its own stability and the security of its own people.
This happens in international politics—there is no use in being sentimental or sanctimonious about it—but what are Pakistan’s reasons? It argues that Afghanistan offers strategic depth against potential conflict with India. However, you cannot think of other countries simply in terms of conflict, and you cannot think of India simply as a country with which you are eternally condemned to fight one war or another. And even if you do, Afghanistan cannot provide strategic depth.
There is also the argument that India is using Afghans, or Afghanistan, to foment trouble in Pakistan. Again, I have seen no evidence of this—and if there is, India deserves to be condemned. So far, however, I have not seen it. I do not think that it would be in India’s interests. Talking to Indian diplomats I get the feeling that it would not be in India’s interests to use Afghanistan to foment trouble in Pakistan, because one Afghanistan is enough. Half a dozen Afghanistans in the heart of Pakistan would hardly be the way for India to be stable.
I think that Pakistan needs to recognise that India has a legitimate interest in Afghanistan: first, to maintain trade with central Asia and beyond; secondly, to prevent militants from attacking Indian targets in Afghanistan; and thirdly, because it has close historical and cultural ties that need to be maintained. It is very striking that India has signed an agreement that it would not use its troops or combat personnel in Afghanistan. Its activities, as the Minister rightly said, are largely developmental. It is the fifth-largest provider of development aid, giving over $1.5 billion to various projects.
I sometimes wonder whether our own Government’s policy is as even-handed and transparent as it could be. On the one hand they seem suspicious and critical of what Pakistan is doing; but on the other hand they organise meetings such as the trilateral summit in February this year, where they seem to be supportive of what is going on and give the impression, certainly to Indians, that they want to keep the Indians out and that they think we can maintain peace in the region simply by establishing some kind of relationship with Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is not the way to go. I very much hope that the British Government will make it absolutely clear that, as the noble Baroness said, all the regional powers in the neighbourhood have a legitimate role in maintaining a stable Afghanistan —they all need to be involved. Bilateral or trilateral summits simply arouse Indian suspicion and are not the answer.
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Warsi for introducing this debate in a thoroughly rounded and comprehensive manner, well illustrating the challenges that this subject raises.
A British Prime Minister declares that now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan. One might legitimately ask whether this is the late 18th century, the 1920s, or perhaps last month at Chequers. It could easily be any of all three. That Afghanistan has the capacity to destabilise its neighbourhood is uncontested, but it is also a country that finds itself in a particularly unsavoury neighbourhood, surrounded by, in the north, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, et al, acknowledged to be some of the most authoritarian, poorly governed and dysfunctional states of the former Soviet Union. Iran, its western neighbour, has continued on its post-1979 project to be the guardian of Shia interests around the world, irrespective of the force of international law, as we have seen demonstrated in the Middle East but also in western Afghanistan itself. Here, apart from a short window of co-operation in 2002, Iran has seen its role as a spoiler, resisting US-Afghan strategic co-operation, profiting, it is alleged, from the narcotics trade, funding armed shipments and training the Taliban. That is hardly a recipe for neighbourly relations.
The most difficult relationship between Afghanistan and its neighbours is that with Pakistan, and it is primarily on that relationship that I shall focus my remarks today. There was a time of cordial relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but it was a relatively brief window and is easily forgotten: the period between the 1950s and the late 1970s, when trade was undertaken, people-to-people contact was strong, and both Kabul and Peshawar were interdependent. The intervening 35 years from then to today have resulted first in Afghanistan becoming a near failed state, and now Pakistan, mainly due to its own internal dynamics, is also deeply unstable.
While the trajectory of decline in Afghanistan from the time of the Soviet invasion is well known, it is difficult to see how we can, in the words of the Prime Minister at Chequers last month,
“see a strong relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan built on greater trust”.
Let me turn to the aims of the Chequers six-month push for peace, as it is described, the principle of which is a peace and reconciliation programme. There are three fundamental issues at stake. The first is the Karzai Government’s ability to attain peace with their Taliban, given that the Taliban office intended for Qatar nearly two years ago has still not arrived, although, as the noble Baroness has told us, the new initiative will be a Doha-based political office, and talks are likely to go ahead shortly. However, the history of peace initiatives with the Taliban is not likely to deliver results, particularly when the US is not actively involved—and to my mind, six months is not nearly long enough to see delivery.
If the Chequers summit had been more broadly based to include at least the United States as financial guarantor, we might have given this a greater push. But without wishing for a replication of the Bonn II meeting, which was very wide indeed, it would be illuminating to assess what discussions might have been conducted with the Saudi Government about their support for the most radical elements in the Taliban, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have been historical and, some say, ongoing.
My noble friend said that Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have a deep and lasting friendship, but given the history of its destabilisation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, I wonder whether players on either side would subscribe unanimously to that remark. Moreover, the role of the UAE as the principal recipient of the proceeds of corruption, as the destination of choice for Afghans depositing their ill gotten gains, is also to be scrutinised. What attempts in this six-month period are Her Majesty's Government likely to make with the United States in seeking to assess how much terrorist funding is channelled through the UAE, and what steps will be taken to curb that?
The second fundamental in bringing about peace is the role of Pakistan, which may not actively seek to destabilise Afghanistan any longer but certainly does not play as constructive a role as it might, given the shared challenges of the terrorist factions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and their activities on both sides of the border. The role of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency’s operations in Afghanistan is probably the best documented record of a deep and concerted policy of destabilisation by one state on another. This is down to Pakistan’s long sought doctrine of strategic depth, discussed earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, which is based on the idea that its influence over Afghanistan—some might even say its control of Afghanistan—represents some sort of strategic depth against India. The perversity of this thinking in Pakistan is that if your attempts at control do not work, you end up with enemies on both your eastern and western flanks. I am aware that the US and the United Kingdom are hopeful that the rapprochement between Kabul and Islamabad will work this time, but I have to say I have my doubts.
I was told by an Afghan Minister only last week that the agreement from the Chequers summit that the Pakistan army would be involved in training the Afghan National Security Forces is now under threat. His explanation was that since Chequers, Islamabad has sought to exert greater pressure on Kabul for Afghan foreign policy to be somehow approved by Pakistan. This is clearly unacceptable to Kabul, and I understand that talks have now recommenced with India to see if India can fill the gap in that training for the Afghan National Security Forces. It undoubtedly can, and since it has a strategic partnership agreement with Pakistan, which gives it a formal role in guaranteeing Afghan security, it would be entirely in keeping with India’s strategic goal of denying Pakistan any strategic advantage in that country. I have to say that I cannot see the extremely benign role that the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, ascribes to India. It has historically always worked to manipulate Pakistan-Afghanistan discord. If my Afghan interlocutor was correct, this is another illustration of how very challenging the task of maintaining regional security will be.
However, the final fundamental that was not addressed at Chequers was the ability and inclination of Pakistan to bring its own house in order. I refer to the various Taliban and other terrorist groups operating across the border. It has long been acknowledged that the main elements of al-Qaeda’s leadership reside in Pakistan. Since the capture of Osama bin Laden, it is also widely believed that Ayman al-Zawahiri is not in the tribal areas but resides in the so-called “settled” areas of Pakistan; in other words, he lives in comfort in some city. We know that the Haqqani network continues to launch attacks and control myriad insurgency groups. Its interests in the drugs trade, arms trade, kidnappings, murders and terrorist bombings make it the most difficult of the terrorist groups with a stake in this conflict. Given that its interests are so deeply entrenched, and that it is so financially dependent on this ongoing conflict and on keeping it going, I cannot see how it will be demobilised. Its listing in the US as a terrorist organisation is long overdue, but I do not see Pakistan bringing it to any kind of negotiation. It simply does not have that in its power.
Finally, there is the influence of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella group of the various Salafi, Deobandi and Wahhabi groups, which were created by ISI initially to counter the Soviet invasion as well as the Shia threat after the Iranian revolution of 1979. They are distinct from the anti-Indian terrorist grouping so well established in Pakistan, too. The Pakistanis have discovered that while the main aim of these groups was to “repulse the invader”, as it is called, be he an Indian, Iranian, Soviet or American, their ideology has now evolved.
With levels of violence in all parts of Pakistan up—by some 300% in Karachi to some 40% in Lahore—the Pakistani public justifiably ask what these groups now want. With the restoration of a civilian Government for some years, it is instructive that they are themselves subject to attacks from these groups. Their aim seems to be to build a fully theocratic state within Pakistan, subscribing to their vision of a true Islam. One of their means of doing this is to form electoral pacts with the mainstream political parties in order to be able to enter the Pakistani parliament, and to wield the influence and power that that brings. As this process of Islamisation of Pakistan continues through the use of violence, and now political entryism, I cannot see much progress in a stable Pakistan emerging as a strong and constructive partner for Afghanistan.
However, in order to support Pakistan in its attempts to recalibrate its policy towards Afghanistan, I know that Her Majesty’s Government seek an orderly transition to a new civilian Government in Pakistan. Indeed, my noble friend has spoken of the UK’s engagement in bringing about a robust and transparent electoral process. I wonder whether she will be able to tell the House what steps we are taking to monitor the elections in Pakistan. A stable Afghanistan will be a prize that will reinvigorate the region and enhance development, trade and the overall economies of the entire region. We know that development is a factor in reducing conflict, and the absence of conflict is a precondition for freedom. Achieving that across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would be a prize indeed.
My Lords, the Minister covered a vast area and I envy her trip to Bukhara and Samarkand. I hope that we shall all achieve that. It is a pleasure to join her in such an upbeat and constructive debate on Afghanistan because it is a country which will always depend on the strength of its links with its immediate neighbours. However, so much uncertainty may mean that what we say will be largely speculation. Having been puzzled by the wording of the debate, I nevertheless fully understand the Government’s motivation for tabling it.
Are we bold enough to say that Afghanistan even has the prospect of becoming a united country? In my view, after ISAF’s withdrawal, it will still require subtle partnerships not only with neighbours but with provincial warlords to achieve relative unity and ensure a reasonably stable coalition at the centre. If we have learnt one lesson in 12 years—the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, reminded us of this—it is surely that over every mountain is another form of loyalty to family, tribe and the shura, normally before that of central government. However, there will always be central government in some form, and it is the job of this debate to identify what forms of regional co-operation are going to achieve the most secure results. In the absence of ISAF, Afghanistan will have to fall even further back on the good will of its neighbours, and they are pulling it in different directions. The Istanbul Process was a good idea but perhaps too ambitious, and the key bilateral partnerships with India and Pakistan will always be restrained by the endemic rift between those two countries, although I am very glad to hear of the improvements in the links between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the transit trade agreement and the new strategic partnership agreement. They will always be helpful in achieving reconciliation.
Iran has a common language with Afghanistan. It has many close regional ties with Herat province and we may be underplaying its role in a future Afghanistan. I am never clear why our relations with Iran seem to inhibit us from making this point. It is true that our embassy and the British Council in Tehran have been badly treated, as I saw for myself when I visited Tehran, but so have they in Moscow. I know from fairly recent experience that there is a great affection for the UK among people in Tehran, and I hope the Minister would agree that there is room for discussion about development along the Iranian border, perhaps through DfID or EU funded NGOs, as I believe there has been in the past over the narcotics trade.
Security is not part of this debate but it is almost impossible to discuss regional relationships without mentioning the background of insecurity and terrorism which has frustrated so many initiatives. Most critical of all is the inability of the Afghan Karzai Government to come to terms with any of the Taliban, the Haqqani group, the Quetto groups, the ISI-created groups mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, or the cronies of the dreaded and mercurial Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to name but a few. Indeed, the Afghan Government have been unable to identify any lasting relationship either side of the Pakistan border.
We have heard that there are a number of initiatives in international trade and development, and this is why I will today confine myself to soft diplomacy, as it is called. The Afghan Government’s website states:
“Through regional cooperation, Afghanistan wishes to improve trading opportunities, integrate itself with regional railways and road networks, become an important partner in regional energy markets, and eliminate narcotics trade”,
and achieve millennium development goals. That is a tall order—trade, transport, energy, narcotics and MDGs. I will consider just trade and MDGs. Trade is perhaps the most important of all because it actively concerns and develops people’s livelihoods. It is happening every day, bringing goods and services across all borders, despite the insecurity. Afghanistan already has bilateral agreements with Pakistan and India and its membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, SAARC, should be helping to build its partnership with both countries. I should be interested in the Minister’s comments. The association aims to promote the welfare of the peoples of the region through accelerated economic, social and cultural development. Afghanistan joined the association in 2007. What has it to show for that?
I remember watching the reconstruction of destroyed small towns and villages outside Kabul, such as Istalif. I saw how dependent the people were on imports of, for example, roofing timber from Pakistan, and all the appalling delays in ordering and transporting it. What Afghanistan needs is more of its own timber so that development is more sustainable. Perhaps the noble Baroness can forecast what our role will be in trade promotion after 2014, especially in agricultural exports, which are the potential winners. To the north and west, there is the important international trade route through Uzbekistan used by ISAF. What is its future? We know that there is considerable local traffic across a long border with Iran. We have heard about mineral exploration and co-operation on proposed pipelines, which are promising.
The Pakistan border is in a special category because of the refugee camps in Peshawar, where many of today’s decision-makers grew up and were educated in exile. This is how many of the Afghan NGOs developed, in partnership with the aid agencies. That building up of civil society has been very important, both before 2001 during the rule of the Taliban, and since. After our armed intervention, when the mist of antiterrorism had receded, development became our principal motive for public support for our intervention in that country, as we have, usually for bona fide reasons, intervened in many poor countries around the world, although not as dramatically as in Afghanistan. I was delighted to hear from the Minister that the UK intends to remain in Afghanistan through international development for another decade. That is saying a lot. In the knowledge that DfID is reducing its programme in India, I ask for a reassurance that the Government will begin now to encourage and support development and co-operation between India and Afghanistan, given that India has much experience in that field.
I will mention one important millennium development goal that affects Afghanistan—water and sanitation. About 300,000 children in south Asia die from diarrhoea every year and more than half the population of Afghanistan lacks improved water facilities, and nearly two-thirds lacks sanitation facilities. The WHO estimates—this must be repeated as often as possible—that for every $1 invested in water, sanitation or hygiene, $3 or $4 come into the national revenue. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells knows from his connection with WaterAid, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and I are joining a parliamentary delegation to the Kathmandu valley this coming weekend to draw attention to the importance of water and sanitation in south Asia. I am beginning to do that here and now. It will be a regional event and will be joined by MPs from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere in a street march to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation headquarters.
Another objective of the campaign is to highlight the work of the high-level panel on the post-2015 millennium development goals, which is meeting in Bali this month and has to come to a decision in May. Perhaps I may send a signal to our Prime Minister that WASH—water and sanitation and hygiene—is still only a subsection of MDG 7 on sustainability and needs to be upgraded in the next round. While drinking water targets are being reached generally by 2015, the world is still well short of the targets for sanitation and hygiene. I hope that the Minister can take back that message.
Afghanistan must play an increasingly active part in these international associations. I hope that our Government will ensure, post-2014, that this continues to happen. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her personal role in this region.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this opportunity to debate the regional relationships with respect to Afghanistan. I have noted with interest the remarks of the Minister following her recent visit to the area and the range of her talks on transition, elections and women’s rights. These, together with steps towards peacemaking in the region, are subjects in which many of us within the church and wider society in Britain have an interest and concern.
Chief among these concerns is the issue of conflict resolution and peacemaking. Like other noble Lords, I do not underestimate the difficulties involved in achieving some kind of regional security. I draw your Lordships’ attention to the words of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently blogged that,
“the journey of transforming conflict is a long and hard one”,
“by the way that is how I understand reconciliation in the church: not as agreement, but conflict transformed from being destructive”.
As we look at the situation in Afghanistan and the region in which it resides, the question that we need to face more than any other is one which enables conflict to be transformed from being destructive, in order to move to a place where reconciliation can take place. There is little doubt that this conflict has been destructive and that there is a need for transformative action—not least because the commitment, sacrifice and welfare needs of serving personnel and veterans demand it, and because there is a need to acknowledge and address Britain’s weariness with a decade-long conflict that has eclipsed the wider debate on our moral and political responsibilities towards a post-2014 Afghanistan.
As other noble Lords have remarked, the need for an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan, and between Afghanistan and the wider region, with appropriate confidence-building measures to achieve this, is paramount. Key to any process is the moral imperative of justice after war. Such consideration includes not just moral or ethical issues over the process of ending war, but the moral considerations that govern post-war relationships between the victorious and the defeated.
In parentheses, reports in last Sunday’s newspapers, most notably the Sunday Telegraph, on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq conflict, revealed some of the concerns felt by senior military and diplomatic personnel on the lack then of preparedness and planning for after the end of that conflict. Since withdrawal in 2011, the disintegration into sectarian paralysis is alarming and should serve as a warning to the management of any post-withdrawal programme in Afghanistan. It is to be hoped that we have lessons to learn here.
The key to any peace process is the conduct of operations in Afghanistan and in the border region with Pakistan, and this must include the use of drones and the treatment of prisoners, as well as the need for dialogue with the armed opposition—notably, authorised representatives of the Taliban. I note with gratitude both the statement of the Foreign Secretary in January and remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, on the difficulties of achieving this, but the opening of a Taliban office is an integral and important step forward in the Afghan peace and reconciliation effort.
Much of what is currently proposed in terms of peace and reconciliation is a top-down approach, particularly in relation to Pakistan. In and of itself, that should not be underestimated. However, as has already been pointed out, there are considerable regional implications that go beyond a bilateral peace process, many of which are historical. I note with gratitude that any peace process in which we are endeavouring to engage at present looks to the wider communities—India, Saudi Arabia and China among them—but, equally, that the historic involvement of Iran, which to a lesser degree is supporting insurgency, cannot be overlooked. Indeed, the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, each presenting slightly different aspects of the question of Iran, lead me to conclude that, although it may be very optimistic to propose it, the inclusion of Iran in any wider Afghan peace process could also prise open the door a little to the much needed regional peace process in the Middle East. This is not a conflict, or series of conflicts, that stands on its own.
I welcome the Minister’s remarks concerning the considerable mineral wealth of Afghanistan and its potential for the future well-being and financing of that country. It would be good if that happened, and we should not allow a situation to occur as it did in Congo, where a great deal of the mineral and other wealth was bought up, leaving the country poor and benefiting only the investors. Whatever the detail, Afghanistan will not be at peace until all the Governments in the region see a common interest in peacemaking.
I remarked a moment or two ago that a top-down approach, while positive, has its limitations. I have indicated that common interest in Afghanistan’s potential for peace requires a broad coalition of actors of varying merit. In any peace process it is also important to keep close to the ground and to see the potential in locally promoted initiatives, in the work of international aid and development organisations, and in the role and place of women. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, remarked earlier on the value of the local community at the rural level, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke about the place of aid and of civil society organisations. These always play a fundamental part in the creation of any significant peace process being worked out on the ground.
In her remarks upon her return, the Minister observed the difficulties that women have faced because of the deeply conservative culture in parts of their country. She also reflected that over the past 10 years there has been a determination to protect women’s rights and to ensure, as in any peace process, that gains made in the past 10 years are not lost. I welcome her assurances on this. However, I also recall Amnesty International’s campaign, launched ahead of International Women’s Day, calling on the United Kingdom Government to “significantly improve” their work in support of Afghan women’s rights and in combating violence against women and girls in that country.
Although Her Majesty’s Government have expressed themselves to be a “staunch supporter” of Afghan women’s rights, little of their recent work in Afghanistan has focused specifically on those rights. Of the 100 reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan supported by DfID, only two have specifically addressed women’s rights, and both were completed in 2010. Any peace process that ignores the fundamental human rights of women and girls will be a scandal.
In conclusion, the transformation of conflict is a priority for Afghanistan and its regional partners. This long, frequently bitter and costly conflict must end both positively and hopefully. Lessons to be learnt from the Iraq theatre provide us with the potential to make, in time, a “good peace”. To be successful, the views and perspectives of the other actors—India, Iran, Russia and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and China—are essential. However, above all, if war is believed to have been “just” to any degree, then the establishment of just peace is its corollary. Only if that is demonstrated can the cost of all the human lives lost in any way be mitigated.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend for securing this debate and for the way she introduced it. She is a real breath of fresh air in an area which is often dominated by impenetrable foreign policy elites who have their own private conservations and reach their own conclusions, which sometimes bewilder us. Some of those elites were telling us 13 years ago that the invasion in 2001 would deal swiftly with the enemy. We then put in place the groundwork for the presidential election in 2004 and many people were suddenly telling us that the Taliban would be exposed, that we would have human rights and democracy, and that effectively we would have a country such as Denmark. However, we do not have that. That fact that 10 years later we are still wrestling with these impossible challenges is something that ought to humble us. That is very much the theme of my contribution today. I want to make the argument that essential to the success of the push for peace are truth and honesty about our roles on all sides. That then leads to humility and respect, and from that we can start to build trust. That is the foundation on which relations must be built.
Let us deal, first, with some harsh realities. These are very difficult statements to hear. My honourable friend in another place, Rory Stewart, who understands this region very well, wrote an article in the Financial Times in September last year saying that it was time to be honest about Afghanistan. He said:
“The gap between the language of policy makers and the reality is typical. It is time to be honest about Afghanistan: we face a desperate situation and an intolerable choice”.
“They have tried ‘ink-spots’ and ‘development zones’; counterinsurgency and nation-building; partnering and mentoring; military surges, civilian surges and reconciliation. Generals and ministers called 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 ‘decisive’ years in Afghanistan. None was. None will be”.
That is pretty stark as a statement. Those who regard themselves as being privileged to live in this country recognise the honourable service and sacrifice of our British forces, 440 of whom have lost their lives and thousands of whom have been injured. However, I do not think that we honour their sacrifice by somehow dismissing the mistakes that have been made and the problems that exist. We honour their sacrifice by being honest and true and by expressing our determination that these efforts will succeed.
I want to point to where we can learn from our experience in Northern Ireland and talk about the elements that are important if there is to be a lasting peace. I very much welcome the push for peace announced by the parties at the Chequers summit on 4 February. The first point is that the parties to the conflict have to be the parties to the peace. We can all get on our high horse and say, “We’re not going to talk to them. They’re evil and guilty of atrocities. We’re not going to sit in the same room as them”, and so on. If we had done that, we would not have got anywhere near having peace on the ground in Northern Ireland, we would not have released people who had been guilty of terrorist outrages before their sentences had been expended, we would not have sat down and talked to Sinn Fein, and we would not have had the negotiations that led to the Good Friday agreement. So the parties to the conflict, however difficult it may be, have to be the parties to the peace. That means that there needs to be a role for the Taliban and for other organisations around the table because there can be no peace without them. I was interested in the suggestion from the right reverend Prelate that perhaps there is also a role for Iran. Everything within us says, “What? Iran? You’re kidding”. But if we want peace, we have to start talking rather than posturing. That is our lesson.
As preparations get under way for the Kabul follow-up conference next month, consideration must be given to that. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on the role that the Taliban will play and whether, as some evidence suggests, it will lead to other very important parties, particularly from Pakistan, saying that they will not attend because the Taliban will not be present. We need to face up to that point. The second point, which has been very well covered by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, is that whatever the solution, it cannot be imposed but must evolve and come from local people; it must be their solution, not ours. I made a note of the excellent line that Afghanistan cannot relive someone else’s history. That is very profound and true, and we need the centrality of Afghanistan having its own solutions.
We also know from our experience in Northern Ireland that the economy is critical to any success. We know that poverty and economic deterioration are challenges, whether in Northern Ireland or Afghanistan. That causes concern. I was reading a report from Oxford Analytica, which said:
“As NATO withdraws the economy will contract”.
Why will it contract? It stated that it is because,
“90% of the Afghan budget comes from foreign donors and 97% of the total economy is linked to the NATO presence and foreign aid”,
with the other 3% coming from opium production. That is not quite the basis for a long-term sustainable economy, so the economy is critical.
I come to my final point on the absolute rejection of violence as a means of achieving an end. Some will say, “That is completely unreasonable; you can’t say that in Afghanistan. Don’t you understand what is going on?”. We understood very well what was going on in Northern Ireland, yet it was only when it was laid down in the Good Friday declaration that all the parties affirmed their,
“total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences on political issues”,
that progress began to be made. There needs to be an absolute rejection of violence by all parties around the table. But, of course, that means some tough points for us. I was disturbed to read that less than a week after the Chequers summit, which held out that positive hope of the push for peace, that NATO’s ISAF forces were called in to launch an air strike in a village in eastern Afghanistan where there were believed to be Taliban fighters. There were, but as well as the homes destroyed, 10 women and children were killed, and tens more were injured. That led to some forthright words from President Karzai; “How could they ask foreigners to send in planes and bomb our own houses?”. It is a problem. If there is to be lasting peace, there must also be restraint in these crucial days and months.
On 2 March, less than a month after the Chequers summit, we had that terrible incident, again involving NATO’s ISAF, when two boys, mistaken for insurgents, were gunned down by a helicopter gun ship. How could they be mistaken for insurgents? They were both under seven years old; they were gathering firewood in a field and were walking behind a donkey. These are serious charges. When we want to give an example of how Afghanistan can prosper in the future we must set harsh targets. Such conduct would not be tolerated at all in our own country. When Jean Charles de Menezes was shot, we had endless inquiries. There were inquiries into Patrick Finucane and Bloody Sunday. There have been endless inquiries in our own country, but we did not even acknowledge the names of the two boys who were killed in that incident. Elsewhere they are named as Toor Jan and Andul Wodood, and they deserve to be recognised and their families deserve to be cared for.
Such incidents undermine the push for peace, however well intentioned they are. We must exercise restraint in the conduct of violence. These people are not statistics; they are not collateral damage. They are real people going about their daily work in their own country and we need to recognise that. It is difficult but it is possible, but it will come about only if all the parties join together and renounce the use of violence. All the parties must acknowledge their mistakes and together express their desire to seek a justice system, a way of resolving disputes without violence and the prosperity of the people of Afghanistan. We all wish them well in that.
My Lords, it has been helpful to have this debate today, and I appreciate that the Minister has provided us with the opportunity to do so. I share the view expressed, and appreciate her contribution to the work that is being done in the region. I express the same appreciation for other Members of your Lordships’ House for the work that they have done as well. Irrespective of agreement or nuances of disagreement that may emerge today, the opportunity for a review at this moment is very welcome. Sometimes detailed discussion and analysis on Afghanistan seem to vanish from the agenda altogether. I think that, given our national commitment to resolving some of the problems of Afghanistan, it is hard to understand that, but it does happen.
First things first. We debate Afghanistan and its region against the background of the combat engagement of our forces. Their courage and heroism deserve both our unstinting praise and the reflection that they are and remain the very best of our nation. They protect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, said, our security interests. That is why they are there. But they are not the only heroes in the story, although, of course, they are placed at the greatest possible risk. Our embassy staff do a remarkable job. The aid workers also do a remarkable job and fill me with pride about the United Kingdom at its best. The same goes for the unsung members of our intelligence services. It is no criticism of any of them at all—none in the slightest—to try to draw up a balance sheet and ask: what are the key issues now? How are they being prosecuted? What has gone right and what has not, and what should we do now?
I want to look at these questions to assess how we stand in the region. I do so, and know how true this is, without the exceptional background resources and latest intelligence appraisals that are always available to Ministers on these occasions. Noble Lords may have to allow for any imprecision or gaps in knowledge on my part. Also, I cannot assess anything other than the work we are doing with our allies. We are not doing this on our own, and the impact of the alliances through NATO and especially the United States establishes particular conditions in which we conduct much of our work, not least in our relationship with Kabul.
My noble friend Lord Parekh was relatively optimistic about some aspects and less so about others. I am not generally speaking a pessimist, but on this occasion I am slightly on the side of pessimism. I wonder whether what we have heard today from the Government really speaks to the full scale of the challenges. That does seem to be an issue. The word “welcome” has been used a number of times, but can we really see in the category of successes an outstanding list of things that we would genuinely welcome as signs of success?
The United Kingdom and the United States are about a year away from a substantial diminution of their military presence in Afghanistan, while others have already left or lowered their numbers. Although we are committed to the longer-term training and mentoring programmes we will not, as the Minister has said, be in the combat roles. Wisely, or more likely perhaps not entirely wisely, we have given our enemies considerable notice, allowing them to repurpose their strategic resources and programmes in the country. It seems all but certain that, whatever the real gains that have been made, Afghanistan will none the less be left with a precarious security problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said a moment ago, there is likely to be a significant economic downturn, along with political and social institutions in which many Afghans have very little confidence. They believe that, on some grounds, the institutions lack legitimacy. I am not clear on the extent of the risk of civil war being led by disparate warlords, but I suppose that any assessment must say that it is likely. Indeed, there could be a general internal conflict. In such circumstances it is not clear how we, the United States, the wider community or the neighbouring community will prosecute key interests and what options would really be open to us.
The helpful House of Lords Library brief—I congratulate the staff on it—illustrates each of these points. It counterposes the official narrative on security improvements, which is partly justified but not universally accepted as being the most accurate account there could be, with a bleak disbelief about the quality of the emerging Afghan forces. I am bound to say that while we should not gravitate towards any kind of complete pessimism, some recent media, including TV coverage, suggest frightening levels of military incompetence on the part of some of those forces. That is along with the abuse of women and small boys by members of the forces, some of whom appear to have serious drug problems as they prosecute the business of military involvement and command.
The Library brief shows what any economist would regard as an economy that is growing now but that is beyond fragility in the middle term. That is illustrated not simply by the aid requirements. As matters stand, the reliance on different agricultural products at the levels illustrated by my noble friend Lord Parekh leaves little scope for externally tradable goods, except arguably for heroin, and even the internal distribution of agricultural products is inadequate. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, also talked about the complexity of the politics that lie in the background to all this, and I share his view. The remoteness of political institutions that are far from the reach of many Afghans, the persistent corruption that puts Afghanistan in the bronze medal position in international tables for corruption, and the weakness of the rule of law suggest fertile ground for all kinds of groups to return, not least the Taliban, whether a negotiation moderates its position or not. Drawdown is likely to make the role of institution-building a regional target, but it is hard to see how realistically that is to be achieved. I do not want to be hopeless about the situation, but I do want to understand what we need in order to do it properly.
However, it has to be said that there are things on the positive side, although I have to say that I find it impossible to agree with the Prime Minister’s somewhat effervescent belief that so many things are approaching the sunny uplands. I regret that that is a worrying and somewhat shallow view, because I can see no evidence that everything is going well. It is clear that Afghanistan is marginally safer today. There are fewer civilian casualties and many of them are the victims of the Taliban. The national solidarity programmes have embedded significant aid progress and processes, of which many are cost-efficient and popular. However, the reality is that they have barely marginalised corrupt local officials. Thousands of schools and major irrigation projects have been built, and in this regard I accept the analysis of the international community that President Karzai has performed in a competent way. However, after the drawdown, it is not clear how the incoming forces will occupy the space. My assessment, for what it is worth, is that it is not likely that the Taliban will occupy it or become the hosts of al-Qaeda again in a straightforward way, but that does not mean that other warlords and factional regional groups will not move in. Indeed, cross-border factions are important in this regard.
GDP in Afghanistan has grown but, as we have heard, it is vulnerable to any dip in aid and to the structural features of the economy itself. However, growth there has been—a tenfold growth in 10 years—while life expectancy has gone up by 18 years over the same decade. A great deal has gone right, but as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, was saying, a great many things still look like extremely big challenges. Like my noble friend Lord Parekh, I doubt that we understand the country or the region adequately. Given the frailties, as we pull out it is quite possible that we will abandon all our security interests in that part of south Asia as a whole, not just in Afghanistan. Progress has been made on the status of women and girls, some of it in pursuit of UNSCR 1325 on women, peace and security, which emphasises the healthier prospects for peace in a nation when women are enabled to participate and play an active role. Has the Prime Minister raised this in the trilateral discussions in order to ensure that it is a process that is capable of being continued?
After drawdown, there is a sharp risk that any advances could be thrown into reverse. Gains in schools have been made, but they are not easily sustained either in Afghanistan or in other parts of the region. When we consider the impact of the region on Afghanistan, we necessarily focus on Pakistan. Here, I welcome the work on Pakistan of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, which has been refreshing in exactly the way many noble Lords have described. However, it should be acknowledged that the problems of dealing with terrorism in the region are complicated. I recognise fully and acknowledge the sacrifices that have been made by Pakistan in combating terrorism, but it is vital to the United Kingdom that Pakistan should none the less change to a greater extent. Parts of it cannot be allowed to remain like a failed state, much less a failed nuclear state, but can those changes be accomplished? It is hard to see real consistency in our approach to this question. We provide military and financial support to a country that also appears to shelter insurgency in difficult parts of its terrain. Of course, it bravely fights any insurgency that is directed at itself, but the hot/cold relationship with Afghanistan leaves a feeling that there is still complicity with some terrorism in Afghanistan.
Any aid to the Haqqani faction, which I can regard only as a major crime family, would be a disgraceful development. The United Nations should list it as a terrorist organisation. Its only realistic role is to destabilise Indian interests at the behest of what I suspect are some factions inside the intelligence community in Pakistan. A proxy war between the subcontinent’s nuclear powers is a dangerous proposition.
We may very well have to work doubly hard to ensure that relationships between all the countries in the region are more successful. I wonder whether we really have developed a comprehensive political strategy and whether we have not relied too much on military force. I still fear that that may be the case. My right honourable friend the shadow Foreign Secretary has consistently advocated stepping up the political strategy, and before each of the major conferences that we have heard mentioned today—Tokyo, Istanbul and Chicago—has asked, as I do today, precisely what our political contribution is and whether we are failing to debate it often enough in our own Parliament. We have learnt a good deal from the Minister today, but the question still has to be asked. In addition, how, in the context of that question, can we ensure that the Pashtuns do not get consistently marginalised in some of the major discussions? That is a regional question.
I conclude with a few quick thoughts, but first by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, who gave a tremendous analytical overview. I shall not, noble Lords will be relieved to know, try to repeat the points that she made. She gave us a realistic assessment of the characteristics of regional neighbours, the problems of a time limit of six months to make major steps and the questions about Pakistan’s willingness to create strategic stability. As we withdraw, in an orderly fashion, we must not step ahead of Afghanistan’s real capacities or in ignorance of the current levels of corruption and incompetence. We should accept that it would be wilfully naive to believe that the ANSF has avoided some of the systematic corruption that has appeared in almost all other institutions. This was widely understood at the Chicago conference, even if it is thought disobliging on occasions to mention it.
We need to continue to provide security assistance and work to avoid threatened divisions within the Afghan National Army itself. What can our role be there? We need to put emphasis on good governance and do it on a par with security, encouraging political reform. We should not accept that this should always go to the back burner because of the latest political or military exigency. This also means being very choosy about which of the warlords and power brokers in Afghanistan we cosy up to when we try to judge the consequences. How will we approach that? We should ensure that any negotiations with the Taliban are part of a broader process—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells was essentially driving at the same point, not least in welcoming the establishment of the office in Doha—and cover all aspects of the rule of law and the rights of women.
We need to try to keep the broader regional discussions inclusive and make sure as far as we can that we influence them to ensure that India is not excluded, that China engages and continues to engage to a greater extent, and that the complexity of the “-stans” is grasped, while ensuring that Iran, rather than having more influence, has as little influence as we can succeed in achieving, including among the Persian-speakers in Afghanistan. In all this, we need to get our tone right. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, will take this in the spirit that I intend it, but I always welcome the very measured way in which the Minister deals with these things; there is nothing gushing or rose tinted in enthusiasm about untested capabilities among Afghanistan’s forces or its leaders, the foot soldiers or the operational skills. However, we cannot in other places, particularly in the leadership of the Government, sound as though we are enthusiastic schoolboys, somewhat lacking gravitas as we make a realistic assessment of what is going on. That is not how I believe people will take us seriously.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. It is important that we continue to consider Afghanistan’s long-term future. I start by mentioning Jan and Wodood, the two boys whom my noble friend Lord Bates referred to. I am sure that everybody in this House would wish to acknowledge the comments made by my noble friend and pass our condolences to the families of those two boys and the families of so many, both of our service men and women and of the innocent lives that have been lost over the years of violence in Afghanistan. We owe it to our service men and women and to the innocent civilians to stand and take stock. For me, it was very personal when I sat in the helicopter during one of the transfers down to Lashkar Gah. It was one of the troop movement moments, when you sit there with young men and women kitted out and ready to go into battle and the enormity of what they do on a day-to-day basis hits you. You are there simply to visit and to speak, but they are there to carry on on the front line. Our thoughts should be consistently with them.
The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, raised some very important points. As the Minister who is responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia, I am particularly focused on how the region can play an influencing and shaping role as to the future stability within Afghanistan. The noble Lord, quite rightly, raises challenges. Do we absolutely understand what the climate would look like as we draw down our troops? Are the security services there ready? I can tell him from my own experience of what I have seen that, of course, it is not a perfect service, but more and more we find the Afghan security forces taking over the security of their communities and doing it more and more in a professional way.
Has progress been made on women? It is one of the issues that I constantly bring to the table, whether in trilateral or bilateral discussions, or indeed in discussions with civil society. Too many gains have been made for us to lose them. As women in Afghanistan say to me regularly, there is no way that we can go back to the way things were in 2001. Simple statistics show that it cannot go back to that: 40% of children are in primary school, and a quarter of teachers and a quarter of parliamentarians are now female. As one lady put it to me, in the practical way that women do, “We now have mobile phones, there is no way they can stop us speaking to each other”. Technology has developed in ways that mean, thankfully, that we can never go back to that dark period in Afghanistan’s history. As I have said, too many sacrifices have been made for us to allow these gains to slip.
I absolutely take the point made by my noble friend Lord Bates about truth and honesty. My views on what we intended to achieve when we first went into Afghanistan are on record: I had real concerns about what we could achieve and how that matched up to the rhetoric that, unfortunately, we heard from Governments across the world at that time. It is important, especially because of the sacrifices that we have made, to be honest with the British public about what a future Afghanistan will look like. That is why I consistently ensure that our language is honest, frank and tempered, and not gushing and enthusiastic. It is of course right to praise the progress that has been made in Afghanistan and it is important to do so to allow the Afghan people to build the confidence that they need to be able to deal with the situation as we leave. However, it is also important to be realistic about what has been achieved. There have been real achievements if you go back to 2001, and we can all be sure that Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists who can be trained and then attack us on our soil. It is also important for us to say that we can realistically continue this relationship with Afghanistan. There are many countries in the world in which we face challenging circumstances but that does not prevent our having a strong bilateral relationship, including on aid and trade, which allows us to continue to engage in strategic bilateral dialogue as the basis of that.
My noble friend Lord Bates specifically spoke about the ulema conference. The trilateral process is important. Noble Lords have raised the question of whether other people should be part of that trilateral process, but the reason why that process is effective is that we have strong relations with Pakistan and with Afghanistan, many of those based on long and strong historical ties. We have acted as what would be seen as an annoying friend, to make sure that we allowed the right space to be created for them to have these strong bilateral discussions. The ulema conference, which was specifically discussed at the Chequers trilateral earlier this year, has had some difficulties.
Noble Lords may be aware that a member of the Pakistani group that was discussing the ulema conference, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, made some comments that were completely unacceptable and nearly threw things off course. My discussions with Foreign Minister Rassoul last week when I was in Afghanistan—or the week before; I have lost track of the timeframe—and subsequent discussions between the Prime Minister and President Zardari and President Karzai are moving things back in the right direction. If the ulema conference can be achieved, it will be a hugely important moment. That is why the stakes are so high: if a very clear message goes out that the use of violence cannot be justified in Islam, it will take away some of the moral justification that the Taliban sometimes use for their violence.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, pointed out that we must do this the Afghan way. Of course we must do this the Afghan way, and that is why the peace and reconciliation process has been Afghan-led. There are some good examples of local decision-making, including the Loya Jirgah, which allows Afghans to make decisions that are consistent with their own cultural heritage. But we must also be prepared to challenge the Afghan way when it leads to decision-making such as that in relation to the age that young girls can be married off. We must also be prepared to challenge some of the ultra-conservative views that are not consistent with the obligations that Afghanistan has signed up to in international agreements.
There has been much discussion of the role of Pakistan. My noble friend Lady Falkner, among others, raised this issue. Let us not forget that during this conflict 2 million refugees have spent time—indeed, many have been born and raised—in Pakistan. When you speak to the Pakistani public or the Afghan public, they will regularly say, “We are brothers. We have so much in common”. The challenge is whether you can translate that into the mindset of the decision-makers. It is important for us to support that people-to-people contact but also to be quite robust about the fact that Pakistan’s future stability and security are absolutely dependent upon Afghanistan’s future stability and security. The two are absolutely interlinked, and noble Lords made important points about how Pakistan itself has suffered the consequences of many of these groups that were initially being used and trained in Afghanistan.
With regard to the role of Saudi support, I can tell my noble friend Lady Falkner that in October 2008 Saudi officials met with visiting Taliban as part of a delegation to Mecca. The Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, reported at the time that future Saudi involvement in peace talks would be conditional on Afghan parties laying down their arms and entering the political mainstream. Of course, there will always be those on the fringe who have a slightly different view but I assure my noble friend that the Saudi Government are playing a positive role.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and my noble friend Lady Falkner also asked whether Pakistan would be an obstacle to reconciliation. As I said, it is clear that stability and security in Afghanistan are in Pakistan’s interests as well. My recent visit to Pakistan was predominantly to discuss the Pakistani elections, which my noble friend referred to, but I also had the opportunity to discuss with at least seven of the main political parties in Pakistan their views on Afghanistan. There has been a shift in Pakistan and it is interesting that there is political consensus on the importance of good relations with Afghanistan; there is also a power consensus. We all know that there are many levers of power in Pakistan, and the Chequers summit was important because we had the army, the ISI and the politicians around the table. When you get that unanimity of commitment, things will be able to move forward in a much more productive way.
A question was raised about the monitoring of the Pakistani elections. We are supporting the EU in its monitoring mission. Where necessary, we are negotiating on its behalf with the Pakistani authorities and providing UK monitors for the team. We have also been discussing with the Commonwealth Secretariat whether the Commonwealth will also send a mission. Pakistan may well go into having a caretaker Government as early as this weekend and it is essential that those elections are free and fair.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about Iran and Afghanistan. The UK would like to see Iran living in peace and co-operation with its neighbours. An Iran that chooses co-operation rather than confrontation could play a role in international affairs that would be in line with the culture and history of the region. As neighbours, Afghanistan and Iran share a similar culture, language and history but tragically they also share similar problems, such as drug smuggling and refugee flows, and it is important that they play a constructive role. We recognise the development of the Chabahar port in Iran, which could be important for Afghanistan’s development, but we are also clear that any investment should not contravene the sanctions on Iran.
The noble Earl also raised the issue of SAARC. He will be aware that Afghanistan joined the association in 2007. The UK is not a member of SAARC but an FCO Minister attended the SAARC summit for the first time in October 2011 as a special invitee. SAARC is supporting several of the Heart of Asia confidence-building measures that I mentioned earlier. The UK sees SAARC as an important factor for stability in the region and welcomes its co-ordinated work with other regional bodies on Afghanistan. The UK values the role that SAARC plays in bringing member states together to tackle issues of concern and to share ideas and experience.
I agree with the noble Earl that regional economic integration is a key part of promoting growth and reducing poverty in south Asia. We are already working with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other multilaterals to support the removal of barriers to greater regional trade and investment in south Asia.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, raised the issue of India. As I said in my opening remarks, the joint working group is a way of achieving that India, too, plays its role in terms of regional stability.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, also raised the issue of a transit route through Uzbekistan. The UK and Uzbekistan have a shared interest in the stability of Afghanistan and the region. As Afghanistan’s key northern neighbour, Uzbekistan has the potential to play a positive role and we welcome its constructive role, including building a railway to Mazar e-Sharif and supplying much needed electricity to Kabul.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells talked about the importance of this not being just a top-down approach, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. As I have already mentioned, in Pakistan there is cross-party support and much people-to-people support. The different power levers within Pakistan are also, I hope, all pulling in the right direction. Much work has been done on the ground in Afghanistan in bringing ex-Taliban fighters into the system and having a process of reform and reconciliation for them. He will also agree that it is clear statements from the top that will drive real progress.
The right reverend Prelate spoke about the rights of women. I think I have already made clear that this is something that I am deeply committed to and passionate about. The sacrifices that we have made have to be worth something, including the rights of some of the most vulnerable in Afghanistan—the women. Our work with Afghanistan and Pakistan on the trilateral process is and will continue to remain at the top of our political agenda. Our support will remain as long as both countries welcome it. We are committed to the Istanbul Process and stand ready to offer support to the confidence-building measures, and indeed any other process where we can play a positive role.
This will be a difficult road. Many of us from all sides of the House raised these concerns right at the outset and continue to say that these will not be easy decisions. We must ensure that we maintain the confidence of the Afghan people and make it clear to them that as combat troops withdraw, our relationship will enter a new phase. The way I have put it is that a chapter in the book will close but the book has not come to an end; many chapters in our relationship with Afghanistan are still to come.
The mineral resource, which has been spoken about, is one of the opportunities that will help and support Afghanistan as it enters a new era. Another will be the vibrancy of its people, particularly its youth. I had the privilege of meeting a group called Afghanistan 1400—1400 based on the Persian calendar. Looking beyond the 2014 elections to what Afghanistan could look like, many of these young people were educated overseas and have chosen to return to Afghanistan. We hear much about people leaving Afghanistan but these young people have chosen to return. I can sum it up in the words of one of the young people, who said, “It is our country. We need to fight for it and we need to fight for its progress”. We must ensure that we continue to stand by them.
Diocese in Europe Measure
Motion to Present for Royal Assent
My Lords, the purpose of this short Measure is twofold: to bring the Diocese in Europe more into the mainstream of the Church of England’s financial arrangements, and to update one important aspect of its synodical governance.
On the first point, on financial systems, the Measure will widen the discretionary powers of the Church Commissioners and the Archbishops’ Council to make grants to the Diocese in Europe. It will enable the diocese to become eligible to receive grants for the same range of purposes as our other dioceses in England. At present, payments can be made only in accordance with the powers conferred on the commissioners by the Diocese in Europe Measure 1980. That provides for the commissioners to pay the costs of the bishops’ ministry and housing. The proposed new power to make payments for the development of the mission of the Diocese in Europe is sufficiently wide to enable the commissioners and the council to respond to evolving needs. The Measure does not seek to specify what level of national support the diocese might receive in the future. If the Measure is passed, the level of any grants to be made to the diocese will be determined as part of the usual wider discussions on the distribution of money available from the Church Commissioners’ funds. The first occasion on which that could happen would be when spending plans for 2014 to 2016 are discussed later this year.
Clause 2 deals with references under Article 8 of the constitution of the General Synod of the Church of England. Article 8 provides that permanent changes to the services of baptism or holy communion or in the ordinal, and certain changes in the Church of England’s relations with other churches, must be referred to the dioceses for approval before they can proceed to final approval by the General Synod. In all English dioceses the reference is made to the diocesan synod. At present, in Europe, references are made to the bishops’ council and standing committee, because when the diocese was established there was no diocesan synod at all. However, the Diocese in Europe now has had its own diocesan synod for a number of years, and therefore it seems very appropriate to amend the legislation to bring the procedure into line with the other dioceses in England. I beg to move.
My Lords, there is very little that I can add to what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle has said. However, I would like to draw attention very briefly to the evidence given by the current Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe at page 79 of the report. He told us that the diocese has doubled in size since it came into existence in 2008. He meant size not in a geographical sense, because it could not get any bigger than it already is, but in the number of its congregations. So it can be regarded, in many ways, as a success story. It now has, as has been pointed out, a diocesan synod that meets in Cologne, and that makes it possible, therefore, to bring this diocese more into line with the other dioceses of the Church of England. The Ecclesiastical Committee had no difficulty in finding the Measure expedient. I support the Motion.
My Lords, this occasion should not pass us by just on the nod, as it were. This is a moment to pay tribute to the chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, who has just spoken. He chairs that committee with a certain distinction and cheerfulness which holds everyone together and enables the committee to take a very constructive line towards its deliberations and to be very expeditious in its work.
We should also mention a word of appreciation to all those within the church who put a lot of work into the proposals that have been put before us. I want to make just two observations about their content. First, a tribute is due to the province that we are discussing. I think that it has done some excellent work, and we should put on record that it is recognised by people probably of all faiths that it has done a good job, and I am glad that we are strengthening its position for the future. Secondly, while I wholeheartedly endorse what is before us, one ambiguity should be registered. I am not a lawyer, but I am a little interested by the provision about clergy not advocating support of a political party that is not in good standing and that has specifically been debarred by the church.
Clergy Discipline (Amendment) Measure
Motion to Present for Royal Assent
My Lords, disciplinary proceedings for misconduct by Church of England clergy are governed by the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, which has been in force since l January 2006. The 2003 Measure enables diocesan bishops to deal with formal complaints against the clergy. Where appropriate, and subject to the procedures provided in the Clergy Discipline Measure, the bishop can impose penalties on a cleric who has committed misconduct. That can include, in the most serious of cases, removal from office and prohibition from ministry. For the few cases that cannot be resolved by the bishop, the 2003 Measure has established a modern tribunal system that is compliant with human rights legislation.
This Clergy Discipline (Amendment) Measure amends the 2003 Measure in four main respects. First, the amending Measure in Section 1 will provide an exception to the principle that no proceedings for unbecoming conduct can be taken in respect of the lawful political opinions or activities of Church of England clergy. The new exception relates to racial equality, because under this amending Measure it will be misconduct for Church of England clergy to be members of or actively support a party or other organisation that has been declared to be incompatible with the teachings of the church in relation to racial equality. Because the bishops are the guardians of the doctrine of the church, it will be the House of Bishops that will decide which organisations are incompatible with the church’s teachings. However, any declaration would not come into force if the General Synod disagreed with the declaration.
Although this provision will affect the rights of clergy under the European Convention on Human Rights, especially in relation to Articles 10 and 11—on freedom of expression and freedom of association—it will do so only in a way that is compatible with the convention and solely with regard to the fundamental area of racial equality. The church itself has rights under the convention, in particular under Article 9—on freedom of thought, conscience and religion—and is entitled to ensure that its clergy adhere to its teachings, and to discipline those that do not.
The second main area of reform is in respect of appeals from the findings of disciplinary tribunals. Under the 2003 Measure, there is an absolute right of appeal to an appellate court, and pending any appeal a stay is imposed on the implementation of the penalty. This means that a priest who has no prospect of success can launch an appeal against a finding of misconduct, hold on to office meanwhile, and frustrate and delay the final resolution of the complaint, which is unjust for the complainant, for the parish concerned and for the wider church. Clause 3 of the amending Measure will require a prospective appellant to obtain leave to appeal before making the appeal. That will not remove the cleric’s right to appeal; it merely puts in place a kind of sieve procedure so that hopeless appeals are stopped and dealt with swiftly and fairly. The church, in introducing this amendment, is taking account of the practice in secular courts where leave to appeal is usually required before an appeal can be pursued.
The third main area where the amending Measure makes change is with regard to the powers of the bishop. At the moment, a bishop can remove from office and prohibit from ministry without further proceedings a priest or deacon who has been convicted of a criminal offence if a prison sentence has been imposed by the criminal court. But there have been cases where a serious crime has been committed and the priest has been given a non-custodial sentence and, in those circumstances, the bishop currently has no power to act unless and until a formal complaint is made, and then only if the priest consents to the penalty imposed by the bishop. The amending Measure will enable a bishop to remove from office and prohibit from ministry a cleric who is convicted of certain criminal offences regardless of whether a prison sentence has been imposed. The amending Measure will also enable the bishop to remove from office a cleric who has been adjudged by the Disclosure and Barring Service to be a risk to children or vulnerable adults and who has accordingly been entered on either of the barred lists under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. This is surely a desirable improvement.
In addition to these three important areas of reform, the amending Measure makes a number of modest amendments to the 2003 Measure which are essentially of a technical nature. For example, paragraph 5 of the schedule makes amendments with regard to the appointment of members of a disciplinary tribunal and of the two provincial appellate courts.
I hope that this necessarily brief outline of the amending Measure will show that, beneath the rather technical complexity of it all, it will improve the church’s disciplinary procedures, which are indeed already regarded as working well. The Measure rightly received overwhelming support in the General Synod—212 votes in favour, with just two votes against and one recorded abstention—and I commend it to the House.
Again, my Lords, there is very little that I wish to add to what the right reverend Prelate has said, although there is of course more meat in this Measure than in the other. Its purpose is to amend the existing Measure of 2003. I draw attention in this case to the care with which these Measures have been prepared by the legislative committee of the Synod and presented to the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. That was especially so in this case, where the comments and explanations submitted to the Ecclesiastical Committee extend from page 15 to page 35 of its report on the Measure and are exceptionally thorough. I suspect that the committee and the House generally should be very grateful to the legislative committee for taking so much trouble.
As the right reverend Prelate has pointed out, the Measure deals with four areas which are set out on page 15 of the report. Of these, the one which was potentially the most controversial was Clause 1, which has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, relating to misconduct. There were a number of questions on that, at page 83 of the report, starting with a question from Sir Peter Bottomley—question 10—and then a question from the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and finally a question from the noble Lord, Lord Laming. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that all those questions were adequately answered by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford.
The other area of importance was the abolition of the automatic right of appeal; now there needs to be leave to appeal which would come before a court of two. That question was dealt with by Charles George QC, the Dean of the Arches, who made the interesting point that the number of appeals has been extremely small; but he also said that, if minded to refuse leave to appeal, he would always give reasons. Once again, the Ecclesiastical Committee had little difficulty in finding this Measure expedient, so I support the Motion.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for having jumped the gun. I talked about the expeditious way in which our chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee had enabled us to get through the business very effectively, and perhaps I was hoping that we could expedite the discussion here—but the House, I hope, will forgive me for having jumped the gun on this Measure.
I support strongly what the noble and learned Lord has just said. The Measure was extremely well put forward. The witnesses from the church who appeared before us were extremely helpful and the right reverend Prelate has in his masterful way put very clearly to us the essence of what it is all about.
I think that the House will find it reassuring that some things are being tightened up, and that applies particularly to some of the social issues which preoccupy us a great deal today regarding child abuse and the rest. I am sure that we welcome the stronger provisions which will now be in place.
In the operation of the law, I always hope that there will be a certain amount of space for interpretation, because I do not see the law as being absolutely rigid. Very firm principles are established in the law and the job of those responsible for administering it is to take those principles extremely seriously and apply them, but there is always room for judgment.
One thing about which the church is deeply concerned is racism. The provision to which I am referring makes particular reference to this. It is clear that the church does not wish anyone speaking in its name to endorse the existence of a political party which is regarded by the church as incompatible in its manifesto and policies with its teachings. The provision goes into the very difficult area of distinguishing between what a party stands for, and what its policies and manifesto are, and any particular policy that may come from that background with which it might be quite possible in isolation, taken away from that party’s expression of it, to be strongly in favour. The provision tries to deal with whether a clergy man or woman who was speaking in favour of a policy—it might be to do with housing, for example—would be allowed to speak about their attitude towards that particular proposal as long as they were not endorsing the party.
I am not a lawyer, but it strikes me that there is a good deal of ambiguity about that. I do not see how you can have an absolute dividing line. If a political party was getting a great deal of publicity for a particular aspect of its policy and a clergy person was then, understandably, to say, “This policy is absolutely in line with Christian teaching and something that we should take very seriously”, that will be interpreted by an awful lot of people as an endorsement of the political party. I do not for a moment suggest that we need to sort that out further at this stage, but it is important to draw attention to the fact that there will be ambiguity there which will need a great deal of firm interpretation by the church. I see the possibility of disturbing events in future.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for their comments. I pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the amended Measure declares that it will be misconduct for Church of England clergy to be members of or actively to support a party or other organisation which has been declared to be incompatible with the teachings of the Church of England in relation to racial equality.
As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, and as I acknowledge, this is a new area for bishops, especially, to go into, because it is the bishops who will bear responsibility, along with the members of the General Synod. There may be the areas of ambiguity that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, outlined, but I hope, nevertheless, that the Measure will gain the support of the House, because it is clearly incompatible with the teachings of the Church of England—let us remember that clergy are public officers of the Church of England—for clergy to be members of or actively to support racist parties in this country. That is what is behind that part of the amended Measure.
I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for giving way, but my point was slightly different. My point is that the Measure concentrates on membership and direct support for a party. I suggest that there might be circumstances in which the clergy person concerned was neither a member nor, hopefully, a supporter, but that things they were saying about a particular policy could be interpreted as support for the party. I just say that that is an area of ambiguity which I think will need a great deal of care in future—firm care, if that is not a contradiction in terms.
United Kingdom: Future Demographic Trends
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on taking two debates on the trot and, through her, I thank her officials very much for having taken the trouble to ring me to ask what issues I wanted to raise with her today.
Initiating a debate on population is to enter a minefield which all too easily deteriorates into an unattractive combination of finger-wagging preaching on the one hand and the denial of any challenges on the other. However, opinion research indicates that demographic trends are of great concern to the citizens of this country and, indeed, to the citizens of the world.
Perhaps I should begin by saying what this debate is not about. It is not a debate about immigration under another name; it is not a debate about relative population sizes and whether there are more white people or black people; it is not about the relative sizes of faiths and whether there are more Christians, Jews or Muslims; it is not about the relative sizes of social classes and whether there are more rich people or poor people; and, finally, it is not about preaching or personal example, because I need to put on record straight away that I have four children. It is about the staggering absolute increase in the world and UK population hour by hour and what that may mean for us, for our children and for our grandchildren. It is the elephant in the room of all our efforts, first, to relieve abject poverty; secondly, to offer people a decent standard of living; thirdly, to provide everybody with a reasonable chance of self-realisation and fulfilling their talents, dreams and aspirations; and, lastly, but not least, to avoid a possible final degradation of our world.
Today, in the more reflective atmosphere of your Lordships’ House, I hope we can discuss the extent of those demographic challenges and what if anything can be done about them. It has proved to be an issue that has been hard to raise in the past, in part because it is an extremely sensitive and personal matter, in part because past political efforts have exploded in the face of individuals—Keith Joseph’s political career was effectively ended by a single speech in Birmingham—and in part because of certain false alarms, such as that of Thomas Malthus and, more recently, Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 book, The Population Bomb.
What is the position now? The annual growth in the world’s population is about 1.1% per annum. That may seem a pretty small percentage, but in absolute terms it means that the world population is increasing by more than 70 million a year. That is more than 200,000 every day of the year. In the hour and a half that this debate is supposed to last, the world’s population will have increased by 13,000 people. “But”, I hear people ask, “is this rate not projected to slow down?”. Yes, it is a bit. Median projections suggest that by 2050 the world’s population will be increasing by only 40 million per annum, or 7,000 more people during a debate of this length.
Whatever the increase, whether it is 70 million or 40 million, I invite the House to consider what that will mean for the need for housing, health, education, employment and resource use. Either way, the world’s population is projected to increase from 7 billion today to 9.2 billion in 2050. Thomas Malthus was worried about food shortage. He overlooked an equally important precious resource: water. The UN’s best estimates are that the planet can provide water for a maximum of 9.5 billion people so, by 2050, we shall be at that limit. That figure is based on the assumption that the people are where the water is—probably a false assumption. We need to remember that all projections about population have an error range; 9.2 billion is the median. The top of the range is 11 billion. What about water then?
After that litany of despair, what can be done? First, we must avoid seeing it as someone else’s problem. Desperate people do desperate things. We may think that times are tough here in the United Kingdom at present, but for a starving man with a starving family in an unstable country, this is El Dorado, and desperate people will find ways to get here. Efforts to provide a degree of stability and prosperity—a prosperity modest by our standards—are critical. I hope that the Government’s overseas aid budget will continue to target those failed or failing states. The single most important step to help slow the population explosion is to ensure that every woman has control over her own fertility. For a whole host of personal reasons, most women seek to limit the number of children they have. It would be helpful if, when my noble friend replies, she can reaffirm the UK’s commitment to provide contraceptive advice and guidance and tell the House what progress has been made and what the targets are for the next few years.
That brings me to a difficult issue, about which I have given my noble friend’s office advance warning. After this debate appeared on the Order Paper, I was made aware of a group of Catholics calling themselves Catholics for Choice—I am not a Catholic, by the way—who wanted to raise the position of the Vatican at the United Nations. In short, they ask, “Is it a religion or is it a state?” They point out that no other religion has a comparable position in world affairs, and if it is a state, the briefing they have sent me points out that it is an unusual one. It has only 594 residents, all of whom are citizens of other countries. Of those 594, only 100 are women and it is estimated that there are no more than 10 children in residence at any given time.
The briefing that the group sent me went on to outline how the Vatican switches between these roles. Thus, at last week’s Women’s Conference at the UN in New York, the Catholic Church claimed observer status because it was a religion but reserved the right to participate in UN discussions because it was a state under the title of the Holy See. Given the Catholic Church’s deep-seated hostility to giving women control over their fertility, this issue is not going to go away, and I look forward to hearing the Government’s views on it.
In the rest of my remarks, I want to turn to the no less challenging position of the United Kingdom. The population of the UK is now over 63 million people. The 2011 census revealed that in the 10-year period 2001-11, the population of England and Wales increased by 3.7 million people, an increase of 7.1%, which is the fastest rate of growth since the first census in 1801. The ONS mid-range projections suggest that the UK’s population will continue to increase and will reach 70 million by 2027—another 7 million people. What do 7 million people look like? The city of Manchester has 500,000 people in it, so think of 14 Manchesters. If you want to take the larger Manchester conurbation, including Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan, which together have a population of more than 2 million, then think of three of these. Maybe we are going to have to build three Greater Manchesters by 2027.
There is a further complication. It is not just that England is already the sixth most densely populated country in the world—after Bangladesh, Taiwan, South Korea, Lebanon and Rwanda—but that the population is not spread evenly across the country. The bulk of the population increase will surely take place in the south-east, where we will probably have to build two out of those three Greater Manchesters
What is to be done? “Stop immigration” is a popular cry. That would make some difference but perhaps not as much as one might think. The Migration Observatory at Oxford University has pointed out that with 100,000 migrants per annum—the Government’s target—the population would reach 70 million in 2035, but with zero migration it would be 66 million—a difference of 4 million. On the other hand, those who say, “Unless we have more young people we cannot afford to look after our existing old people”, have forgotten the implications of compound interest. We would be engaging in, to quote Sir David Attenborough, a gigantic population Ponzi scheme. We have to recognise that at some point we have to achieve a stable, balanced population of this country. There will be considerable strains during the transition phase, but at some point someone somewhere must be brave enough to state this fact and to withstand the misinterpretation, misconstruction, misreporting and misquotation that will surely follow. To inform the general public in a balanced, unsensational way, we need an authoritative body to undertake the necessary research and writing. Population affects every government department—think of the impact of building three Greater Manchesters on every aspect of government—yet population is the responsibility of none. A useful first step in analysing this exceptionally complex problem could be to create a new Minister, or add to the duties of an existing interdepartmental one, to take responsibility for this issue.
To conclude, whatever one’s views of this issue, surely we must all agree with Sir John Sulston, who is leading a study of global population for the Royal Society, when he said that the target should not be to cram as many people as possible on to the planet. He went on to say:
“We have to look at what will allow humankind to flourish. We want to aim for a high quality of life and not just to scrape along”.
Future generations deserve no less.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, for securing and introducing this debate. During the 13-odd years that I have been in your Lordships’ House, this is the second time that I have spoken in two debates in a row, and the first time that these two debates have been within 20 minutes of each other. If today’s experience is any guide, I would not want to repeat it and I would not commend it with much enthusiasm to anyone in the House.
We are talking about the impact of demographic trends. Within the UK, the population as of 2010 is 62.3 million, expected to rise to 67.2 million in 2020 and 73.2 by 2035. These predictions cannot always be relied upon, but by and large there is reason to believe that the margin of error will not be very large. It is also expected that the median age will rise from 39.7 today to 39.9 in 2020 and 42.2 in 2035. Today people over 75 constitute 4.9% of the population; by 2035 that is likely to rise to 8.9%, almost double. Those who are 85 or over constitute 1.4% of the population, and that is likely to rise to 3.5% by 2035. The working age of 30 to 60 years is also likely to rise, but rather slowly, from 24.8 currently to 26.7 in 2035.
These figures make sense only if seen in a comparative context. The picture in France is roughly the same. The population today is 64.7 million, likely to rise to 67.8 million in 2020 and 71.3 million by 2035, an increase of 10%. In Italy, again, there is a likely increase between now and 2035 of 8%. The only major country—other than Poland, Lithuania and others—that is a striking exception is Germany, where the population is likely to fall by 6% between now and 2035. The current population is 81.7 million, likely to fall to 80.1 million in 2020 and then 76.3 million by 2035.
As the population rises, that has an impact in terms of who is falling and who is rising. The number of Christians, for example, declined between 2001 and 2011 by 13%. The number of those with no religious affiliations increased by 10% during the same 10-year period and there is reason to believe, so the experts tell us, that the same trend is likely to continue, so that by 2035 the number of Christians will have fallen dramatically and those with no affiliation will have risen.
The percentage of Muslims and ethnic minority children is likely to rise, partly through immigration and partly because of fertility and an increase in the number of children. It is also expected that there will be an increase in qualifications at level 4 and above, so more and more of our people are going to acquire higher qualifications. Rather surprisingly, the report says that childlessness is on the increase, and the number of children per family is falling. However, it is falling unevenly: in white communities, the size of the family is much smaller—1.5 or 1.6 children, sometimes even less—while among the ethnic minorities the families are larger, and their population is therefore likely to rise faster than that of the rest of society.
So far, we have relied on migration to provide skills that we have lacked. Increasingly, it is expected that by 2035 the sources of migration will dry up. Indians will have no reason to come here; in fact, more and more of our people will want to go to India, China, Pakistan or elsewhere. If some migrants are available, more European countries will be competing for them, and our share is likely to fall because we might be less attractive than other countries. These are the broad trends over the next 30 years, so what are the likely consequences?
I shall concentrate on three or four that follow directly from what I have said and are not cultural factors that might be contingent and may not happen. It is striking that the percentage of south Asian doctors is rising. Currently it is about 23%, and it is likely to rise to 35% by 2020. By 2035, the proportion of south Asian doctors may be 46% to 48%; every second doctor will be of south Asian origin. By and large, they will be working not as GPs but in hospitals, and many of them will be women. Here I rely on evidence given to me by two distinguished doctors, Dr Ashtok Pathak and Dr Karam Marwah, a consultant and a GP, who have access to some interesting details.
As the population gets older, medical care will be costly. It is said that those over 75 demand more than twice the amount of medical services and money than those between 35 and 44. More chronic illnesses and expensive drugs will have to be taken care of.
In the next three decades, because of family breakdown, growing loneliness, chronic aliments, weak family structures and less familial and social care, there is likely to be an increase in mental health problems, far more than we have seen in our hospitals, which will have to be taken care of. At a slightly different level, the entire NHS structure will have to be looked at very carefully because the distinction between hospitals and GPs cannot be continued in the way it is. Local hospitals will have to go. Instead, we are going to have distant specialist hospitals and more care will be provided at home and in the community.
As the population gets older, politics will change. Voting patterns will change. One never knows how they will change. It depends on the state of the world by 2035, but voting patterns will change, as will the issues that matter to people. For those between 30 and 45 or 50, certain issues matter far more to them than to the elderly population. As the number of people over 75 increases, the issues that matter to them will be different and they will dominate our cultural and political life, and political parties, including my own, will need to take notice of that.
One of the important impacts will be a profound change in national identity. If, according to projected figures for 2025 and 2035, there will be more ethnic minorities, more Muslims, more elderly people, more women and more south Asians and others in visible positions of power, what it means to be British will have to be defined very differently.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on initiating this debate. I listened with much interest also to the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. Looking across the world, demographic change is increasingly a reality. I declare an interest as head of the International Longevity Centre in the UK and co-president of the family of ILCs across the world—there are 14, soon to be 16, of them. I am extremely privileged to have some insight into the trends that demographic changes are bringing everywhere.
Along with everyone, I want to be able to celebrate this demographic change. It is wonderful. We can all expect to grow old, which is a new phenomenon. It has never happened before in the history of mankind. Longevity is a good thing, provided we adapt to it and change our institutions and services accordingly to meet the challenge.
I have just come back from Japan where I was working for a few days. Recently, when I was privileged to chair one of the Ditchely Park conferences, a statistician reported that statistically, actuarially, even if not realistically, it is possible to calculate when the last Japanese man or woman will live in Japan. This is because Japan has not encouraged immigration and the population is static. The Japanese have very few children, and its population is ageing more rapidly than that of any other country of the world. There is a huge warning there that we need to balance our population ageing so that we can reap its benefits and plan for the huge challenges that ageing brings with it.
Recent medical advances have been so successful that we have conquered or controlled many of the serious illnesses that used to kill people. People can go on living for a long time with chronic conditions, and therefore we have the enormous challenge of dealing with the different types of dementia in all countries. Dementia is a huge challenge. This morning, I was at the dementia village at the innovations conference at ExCeL, which is looking in a novel way at innovations that enable us to live a quality of life with the different forms of dementia. That is a wonderful innovation because this is perhaps the greatest challenge that we all face. We know that one in three of us who reach old age—85 or over—will have some form of dementia, and we must prepare for that by bringing the correct services across the board to serve people who have dementia.
We have to look more widely if, across the world, we are to look positively at the ageing of the population: productive ageing. That does not mean that everybody has to be in the workplace, but it means looking at what older people bring to society. We know that various political parties in this country and in other advanced economies could not survive without the older volunteers who maintain them, particularly before elections. We know that in Africa without the older population many more children would grow up without any adult care, supervision or help because of the ravages of AIDS. We know that in many countries, you still do not talk about a retirement age but go on working until you die because there is no such thing as retirement and an awful lot of people depend on your activity for their livelihood. Whatever age you are, you depend on the older population for much of your welfare and productivity.
Ageing is not a disaster, it is a triumph, but in this country and elsewhere we have to adapt very fast if we are to keep up with the change. That means looking across the board, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, insisted. For example, we have not designed our built environment, our housing and our homes adequately for an ageing population. Transport has not come to terms with the fact that the travelling public will rapidly become much older than they are now. On education, with adequate IT or television, perhaps in your own home or in the village community centre, you can watch a lecture given by the leading professor of whatever subject you are studying. Why do we retain absolute age identities when we are learning? Why cannot a 14 year-old and a 64 year-old learn a language or history together? Why do we segregate people ruthlessly according to their age? It is of another era.
We should look again at our education, as we look at employment. We must bring the skills and experience of older people into the workforce along with the innovatory ideas and new approaches of the young. We must encourage multi-generational working and all forms of education. We must realise that older people can learn, retrain and adapt as our retirement ages increase, and can continue to work much later in life. We must design our buildings and places of work accordingly. There must be much more flexible working and cleverly designed buildings and methods of working to cope with the ageing of the population.
There is an ethical imperative to address the ageing issue correctly and to work so that, in all industrialised countries, we sort out the imperatives of adequate pensions and benefits. We realise that the ageing of society is changing everything.
Today, the excellent report from the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, is published. It looks at some of the challenges posed by an ageing population in this country. We know that, as yet, we do not have the cohesive approach to ageing that we need. Governments still work in silos. We still do not bring the different systems together. I hope that the draft Care and Support Bill—for which I have been pleased to work on the pre-legislative scrutiny—will help if we have government support to bring things together so that we are not separating healthcare, social care and housing in the way that has happened up until now. It is only with a co-ordinated approach, difficult as it is with the legal responsibilities of different departments, that we can tackle that. If we do not, we will not meet the challenge of an ageing population. We have the opportunity to do it now, and we can.
With the best will in the world, the Government are now making encouraging efforts to co-ordinate care under the banner of well-being and outcomes. Other Governments across Europe and beyond are doing the same thing. It is a marvellous moment for us to celebrate the ageing of the population. If all countries together get this right, we can celebrate and be delighted that we can all hope to live to a great age.
I rise in the gap to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, on introducing the Motion for debate. I will briefly make a general point and a specific point about the United Kingdom.
The general point is that we should be careful of joining in any chorus of Malthusian despair. Malthus was wrong 200 years ago and is still wrong today. My specific point about the UK is that there is a serious problem with the demographic balance of our population. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has said, we should welcome longevity. However, it will impose a huge cost on our society. Some estimates are that the cost is as great in terms of its fiscal weight as the cost of the fiscal consolidation that we are currently undergoing, if you take into account the impact on pensions, health and social care.
That public spending cost will, if we are not careful, eat into our nation’s capacity to tackle the other big problems we face: global competition, where we have to invest in education, innovation and skills; climate change, which requires a huge programme of infrastructure investment and change; and inequality, in order to raise the life chances of children being brought up in disadvantaged circumstances. If we do not tackle the fiscal problem of ageing, we will find that other problems are very difficult to tackle.
We need in Britain a new inter-generational compact between grandparents and their grandchildren. This is extremely difficult for the political parties to achieve in terms of the normal discourse of political debate. We must try to find a new cross-party consensus about how we cope with the public spending challenges of the ageing society. The report from the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, which has been published today, on which I hope we will have a much longer and more thorough debate in future, is of great significance. This is a real challenge for whoever forms the next Government of Britain. There is a role for the House of Lords as a body which can bring together different political points of view and try to establish a much-needed consensus on this fundamental challenge.
My Lords, I should also like to speak in the gap, having given notice. This is an important debate and we should thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for one of the few debates that really addresses the future of the United Kingdom. That certainly happens occasionally.
My point is about technology and electronic contributions, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, touched. They are extraordinarily important for enabling elderly people whose capacities may begin to decline to understand and to assist them with health, communication, transportation, learning and so on. I have seen examples where this works brilliantly. A friend recently died and, if there had been the information and communication, that need not have happened.
As has just been said, this now provides a technological and industrial opportunity. This interesting report refers to the financial aspect. There is a lot of money in the elderly sector of society. If people could be encouraged to invest in the new methods and technologies and not just in housing, that would provide a boost to our technology and industry. We go from the industrial revolution to the gerontological revolution. Harold Wilson talked about the “white heat of technology”; we will have the white hair of the new technological revolution.
Annexe 17 of the report has an interesting point on the role of the royal college providing completely new designs and ideas. It will be an extraordinary opportunity for quite new ideas and for business. That rather positive note is something that we should think about.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, for securing this debate. Although he concentrated on population size, I note that this debate is taking place on the very day of the publication of the Filkin report, Ready for Ageing?, which is very apt. I will concentrate more on that. I also congratulate him because it is less than 24 hours since we heard that a 76 year-old was to take up perhaps the most demanding international job in the world. In congratulating Pope Francis, let us hope that he also serves to remind us that 76 is the new 35.
I also very much take up the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that we should celebrate this. As she spoke, of course, my noble friend Lord Healey was in his place, the oldest Member of your Lordships’ House. He is not now in his place—I have to confess that he is my hero—but what a wonderful reminder he is of what ageing does.
I take the opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and the members of his committee, as well as Professor Howard Glennerster and Jonathan Portes, who advised them. They have produced much food for thought and undertaken much of the work necessary for what I hope will be a cross-party response to the tasks ahead.
The report notes that we are “woefully underprepared” for the social and economic challenges presented by an ageing society. However, the report begins by drawing a route map. I will not try to better its assessment, but will simply emphasise a few points. First, of course, this issue requires not simply cross-party consensus but a cross-generational consensus. That means listening to the young and listening to the old, and involving them all in the development of new policies and provision. We should not be doing things for or on behalf of the ageing, but with and alongside them.
The issue of fairness between generations is key, as is the issue of responding to disparity between classes. It is an old story that, as one takes the Jubilee Line eastwards from Westminster station, life expectancy drops a year as each station passes. We have to be careful, therefore, not to rank people simply by their numerical age, given that needs, whether for social or medical care, fall for almost everyone in the last six months of their life, virtually regardless of their age of death. We must not allow inequalities present during working lives to continue into pensioner poverty. We need to consider the needs of those who will die younger than average, just as much as the needs of those who will head towards their century.
We also need a range of responses, encouraging self-help via healthy lifestyles, savings, investment and insurance, as well as delivering socially the responses we need. As was mentioned, that includes building more homes, social and medical care, and other support systems. With regard to self-help, we need to encourage insurance and investment, but this means rebuilding trust in the industry, as mentioned in the Filkin report. The Government rejected amendments that we tabled both to the Financial Services Bill and to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to require those who hold and manage money on behalf of others to have a fiduciary duty towards those investors or beneficiaries. Until that is law, people will be reluctant to take on complicated financial products through lack of confidence. The Government also defeated our attempt to require the financial industry to adopt a code of conduct. We hope they will think again about this.
The situation is much the same with letting, managing and estate agents, who might have an important role in helping older people downsize or move. However, without robust regulation of these, we risk another era of mis-selling or of poor service to this group. Only last week the Government resisted my amendments on requiring an ombudsman for some of these agents, although I am pleased to say that they were defeated. Will the Minister indicate whether they are now willing to accept that requirement? It would be an important safeguard if older people are to downsize and to be able to move to more suitable accommodation.
I will turn to another aspect of self-help: keeping healthy and fit. We know that good diet, exercise and keeping to moderate drinking is part of this. Will the Government explain, which they did not quite do this morning, why, when every medical body considers that minimum unit pricing for alcohol is key to reducing harmful consumption, they are going to listen to the drinks industry instead and bow to its demands to be allowed to peddle cheap booze?
When I hear the drinks industry claim that it is concerned with the older and the poor who have fewer pounds in their pocket, I simply rage. Older people are very vulnerable to alcohol misuse, especially if they are coping with loneliness, depression or bereavement. To pretend it helps them by giving them access to cheap units of alcohol is irresponsible in the extreme. Therefore, in the development of policies to assist our ageing population, can the Minister assure us that the health and well-being of the nation will be put ahead of the industries’ interests, be that the banking industry or the brewers?
This is not just a matter for the individuals concerned. Society and the Government have a key role to play. Charities want to help but are facing severe financial constraints and find already that the demands on them now, let alone in the future, are more than they can respond to. Reverting to the alcohol issue, Alcohol Concern has lost all its government funding, undermining its initiatives on older people’s drinking, among other problems. Will the Government outline what will be done to assist all the relevant charities in the coming years?
We need more homes, with homelessness having increased by 11% between 2010 and 2011. Perhaps we could hear what plans the Government have to increase the housing stock, and particularly the stock appropriate for an older population.
This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the death of William Beveridge. It is interesting to ask what he would say to us today of these challenges. He would probably suggest that, for the development of a good society, we need a national debate, including women, and all Britons, but perhaps especially the black and ethnic minority groups, and also that we need more devolution. He would probably suggest that we reinvigorate community development, especially given the decline of religious activity, the more varied family formations and the increase in family break-up. He would probably urge us to think about better use of land and transfer of ownership to make better use of it for the changing population. However, I am sure that he would also talk about consistency in programme development. We cannot keep reforming and hope that anything of value will ensue.
The answer to the Question that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised today is, according to the Filkin report:
“The Cabinet has not assessed the implications of an ageing society holistically, and has left it to Departments … The Government have not looked at ageing from the point of view of the public nor considered how policies may need to change to equip people better to address longer lives”.
Let us hope that the Government will take this to heart and will now begin to work with this rather different viewfinder.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and challenging debate on an important subject. I am, therefore, grateful to my noble friend Lord Hodgson for raising this important and fascinating subject.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson started off by talking about what this debate was not about. He said that it was not about race, religion or immigration. That probably confirms why I should not be answering this debate, but I will try. He also suggested that there should potentially be a new departmental Minister with responsibilities for all of these issues. I hope to answer this debate well, but not well enough to be given that particular responsibility. When the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, raised all the issues that I could potentially answer from this Dispatch Box, on homelessness, charities, minimum alcohol pricing and welfare, it reaffirmed how wide the debate could be. I think she will forgive me for saying that I probably cannot answer most of the questions that she has raised, but certainly officials have noted all the questions, and I shall make sure that she gets full replies. I follow the lead of my noble friend Lord Hodgson in declaring an interest; my husband and I have five children between us.
The ramifications of changing populations are widespread and significant. They affect all countries in the developed and developing world, and the issues and opportunities which arise from this debate impact on the work of all government departments. Only today, the House of Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change has published an important report on an ageing society. The noble Baroness has already referred to it. The committee discusses the preparations needed, for example, in health and social care and in pensions and savings, and makes important points on attitudes to ageing. We will consider the points made in this report carefully and reflect them in the full range of government policies and programmes.
Speaking personally, I believe that demographic issues and the interrelationship with economic growth and development possibly in some way underlie many of the topics which arise in my FCO portfolio, as well as in my faith and communities portfolio in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I will try to reflect the breadth of comments and issues raised in the short time that I have available.
We know that the UN estimates that the global population is already more than 7 billion, and that this will continue to rise. The medium estimate is that global population will exceed 9 billion by 2050, and 10 billion by 2100. Most of the global population growth will take place in sub-Saharan Africa, and we know that there are already pressures on the availability of water in those areas. In these hotspots, population issues can place great strains on government systems, particularly in the absence of strong economic growth.
There is also an issue about the management of water in these places, which means an improvement is needed in infrastructure and governance. This Government are helping these places around the world, not just because it is the right thing to do but because it is the smart thing to do. Helping these countries helps Britain; investing in them now, before they become unstable, means that we can avoid spending more money on dealing with future problems such as immigration or threats to national security. By 2015, our funding will secure schooling for more people abroad than we educate in the UK, at one-fortieth of the cost. We are not investing this money irresponsibly; we are acutely aware of the duty we have to the taxpayer. This Government have introduced the UK aid transparency guarantee, so people around the world can see exactly what DfID’s spending is going on. I assure my noble friend Lord Hodgson that our commitment to international development will continue.
On family planning, this Government are going to great lengths to help women in other parts of the world take control over their fertility. At the London family planning summit in July 2012, we achieved an extraordinary global breakthrough by the international community pledging to give access to family planning for 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries. We do not want to stop there. Our vision is of a developing world where all women have choice over the size and timing of their families, where no woman dies giving birth, and where all newborn babies survive and thrive. But I want to be absolutely clear: we are talking about voluntary family planning; there is no justification for coercion.
Between now and 2020, we will provide an additional 24 million girls and women with family planning services to prevent the deaths of girls and women for whom an unintended pregnancy carries the risk of fatal consequences. For the next eight years, British support will save the life of a woman in the developing world every two hours, as well as preventing more than 20 million unintended pregnancies, equivalent to one every 10 seconds. My noble friend Lord Hodgson raised the views of the Holy See; we have different views from the Holy See, which has official observer status at the UN. It makes its position on contraception very clear, and we make ours very clear, as do other UN member states. At UN discussions in New York, we are clear that women’s control over their fertility is a cornerstone of development. We know that fertility tends to decline as development expands, and development has often been described as the best form of contraception.
On the impact on the UK, we know that the UK population is already more than 63 million, and current estimates predict it to increase to more than 67 million in the next decade or so. The south-east of the country already has the largest population of any English region, at almost 9 million people. Part of this rise is driven by employment, jobs and growth. This Government have already started trying to rebalance growth across the country. We have developed enterprise zones, local enterprise partnerships and a regional growth fund to do just this, and we are backing these mechanisms with money. The regional growth fund has allocated £2.4 billion to more than 360 projects and programmes already, and last October we announced £25 million of funding for LEPs to bolster core capacity funding. The 24 enterprise zones have already secured around £160 million in private investment and created 1,700 jobs, and this Government are continuing to work with them to fully realise their potential by 2015. This Government are committed to allowing every area the opportunity for growth, which is why these initiatives are not only focused on deprived areas. We are helping local areas to use the tools and funding we have devolved to meet local needs across the country.
Noble Lords raised the issue of age and the ageing population. On age discrimination, we know that our population is ageing, which will bring challenges. We also know that age discrimination will become an increasing problem, which is why a ban on age discrimination came into effect on 1 October 2012. I spoke of the huge value of older people in this House last December. This ban will catch those actions or omissions that result in genuinely unfair discrimination because of age, and allow our ageing population to continue to participate fully in society. We want to make this country one of the best places to grow old in, where older people get excellent care and support when they need it, where people are supported to live independently and where we make the most of the skills and talents everyone has to offer. By doing this we will not only help people to lead fulfilling lives but benefit the economy as a whole.
The noble Lord paraphrased the challenges of an ageing population and how political parties would respond to that. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, raised the issue of older people as volunteers for political parties. I assure her that, from my experience in my previous job, I can absolutely confirm that it is usually the older people who come out and do the hardest work in campaigns.
Much of the focus of this debate is on real and perceived problems that can arise in our country and abroad, on population density, youth unemployment, supporting older people in society, managing pressures on resources and the environment. All Governments need to focus on these issues and plan appropriately across the full range of policies and services. This covers, for example, savings and pensions provision, as well as health services and education. However, we should not lose sight of the advantages of demographic change. Younger populations offer the opportunity of a more productive workforce and hence can boost economic growth. Economic growth in turn offers the opportunity to invest in environmental protection measures. Older populations can provide wisdom and experience, which is often unrecognised and untapped in western economies. More diverse populations offer a competitive advantage in trade and networks in a globalised world.
So my message today is about the need for proper planning and provision, across the private, public and voluntary sectors, coupled with an optimism which comes with the tide of economic development and changes in populations, here and abroad. I once more thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson for bringing forward this timely and important debate.
My Lords, I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my honourable friend Matthew Hancock. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, I would like to make a Statement about the future of apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are back. Having existed in this country for more than six centuries, apprenticeships have through the ages provided the vehicle for skills and trades to be handed down the generations. At their best, they are an engine for social mobility and for giving employers and apprentices alike the skills they need to prosper. While apprenticeships declined in the last century, in this century they have recovered and grown in number, so that 500,000 started last year, compared with the 350,000 who started at university. They have grown in stature, becoming a career choice in their own right.
It is perhaps not surprising that research shows that, on average, a higher apprenticeship can raise your lifetime earnings by £150,000, about the same as a degree. While this growth in number is very welcome and should be welcomed by all sides of this House, I think all agree that we must continue to increase their quality and make them relevant to today’s economy.
We will not delay progress where we can act now. Steps have been taken already to require every apprenticeship to be a real job and to mandate that in most cases an apprenticeship lasts a minimum of a year. Today we are announcing how we will further strengthen the provision of English and maths within apprenticeships. The Employer Ownership of Skills pilot is putting power in the hands of employers to design qualifications and deliver apprenticeships in line with employers’ needs. We are extending apprenticeships to higher level skills and into the professions like insurance, accountancy and the law. But we need to go further.
Last year, we published a report by Doug Richard into the future of apprenticeships. I want to pay tribute to Doug Richard for the work done in producing his report. The report called for us to put employers in the driving seat, giving them more control over qualification design, training delivery and funding. It called for quality and standards to be raised across the programme and for a focus on outcomes, stripping out bureaucratic processes, and it called for more open data, more awareness and more employer engagement in schools.
We wholeheartedly agree with the principles and vision set out in the Richard report. The report, and the response, that I am placing in the Library of the House, provide a programme of reform that will be challenging for all involved in apprenticeships—providers, government, employers and apprentices themselves—but is absolutely right. Rigour and responsiveness will be our guiding principles. The Richard reforms build on the best of this historic programme, but will once again make it attuned to the needs of the modern workplace. We agree specifically that apprenticeships should be targeted at those in new jobs or roles to train for that role and as a springboard for their future careers, that employers should be at the centre of designing apprenticeship standards and qualifications, that assessment should be largely at the end, be more independent, involve employers, and be graded.
We agree on the need to raise further standards in English and maths and that employers be given greater control of funding to ensure that it is directed where it adds most value. Cost will be shared between apprentices, their employers and the Government. We agree that more open and accessible data are vital and we agree on the importance of improving awareness and engagement with schools, so much so that the Prime Minister has already set out that it should become the new norm for young people to go to university or into an apprenticeship.
This is a widespread package of reforms on which we will consult widely and which we will implement sensitively. The consultation will stay open until 22 May. We will carefully consider responses over the summer and publish our detailed implementation plan in the autumn. Be in no doubt, apprenticeships are a force for good. These reforms will help Britain in the global race by supporting unambiguously those who want to work hard and get on in life. They will help give all the chance to fulfil their potential. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, we cannot help feeling that this is another lost opportunity on the Government’s part. On one level, we do not challenge their commitment to apprenticeships as they have certainly tried to drive up the number. However, there is a danger in going for volume without ensuring that the quality is sustained, as was mentioned in the Richard report. One of the things the Government are doing, which we welcome, is making sure that apprenticeships are real jobs lasting for a minimum of one year. That has not been happening over the past few years and some young people have been exploited and have not gained a proper qualification, so that step is a welcome improvement. However, is it enough in the current situation of very high youth unemployment, which must concern us?
I welcome another matter that the Government have addressed: namely, that the retraining of older employees will not be badged as apprenticeships but will be proper retraining, as it should have been. However, we are concerned that fewer than 10% of employers in this country employ apprentices. That is not an easy problem to solve but it requires determined, imaginative action from the Government, which we do not believe they have shown in their response to the Richard review. Yet again, they have ducked the Select Committee’s recommendation that every government procurement contract should contain a commitment to apprenticeships.
This week is National Apprenticeship Week, which we initiated when in government. It is a worthwhile event which celebrates the importance of apprenticeships. When I attended the Crossrail apprenticeship awards ceremony, I could not help reflecting that its 400 apprenticeships came about because the previous Labour Government had insisted that they had to be an inherent part of its contract. That applied not only to Crossrail but to the Olympics, where we managed to establish 300 apprenticeships. I have yet to receive a satisfactory response from the coalition Government on why they will not make apprenticeships a requirement of public procurement contracts. If they want to send a signal about their commitment to employers, surely they should insist that apprenticeships are part of any public contract.
There are also lost opportunities in relation to the Richard report. He wants his recommendations to be taken as a whole rather than as a “pick and mix”, which the Government have tended to do. I know that they say they will come back to it, but the real concern is that time is marching on and the need is there now. For instance, on supporting small businesses, we know what some of the successful measures are in terms of SMEs. We know that getting them together to be part of group training associations or hubs that encourage small businesses to take on apprentices works. Why have we still not got apprenticeship schemes in every school, college and university? If you want to signal that apprentices are a necessary part of their environments and that there are real opportunities, getting those organisations to take on apprentices would be a first-rate example.
I hope that in her response the Minister will tell us exactly how the Government will increase the pathetically small number of employers who take on apprentices. The record of FTSE 100 companies is not much better—only about one-third of them do so. This remains a lost opportunity and the Government are not making real and determined efforts to ensure that an apprenticeship will be available for all those young people who want one.
We know that demand enormously outstrips the supply. I have previously cited the example of BT; for 300 apprentice places—although the figure may have increased—there were some 25,000 applications. It is harder to get a BT apprenticeship than it is to get into Oxford or Cambridge. We remain in that situation because, first, we are not providing an example through government procurement contracts and, secondly, we do not have a determined drive to ensure that more companies take on apprentices.
Some local authorities are doing well, but why are not all local authorities having apprenticeship drives? Why do not all local employment partnerships ensure that apprenticeships have to be an inherent part of their programmes? The noble Baroness can cite a large figure of 500,000 apprenticeships—I have said that there are problems about their quality—but that is not enough if one looks at the participation rate of companies. I still go around talking to employers who seem to have little or no idea that they could, to their benefit, take on apprentices. The Government need to do a lot more and ensure that every school has links to the business community. They need to ensure that apprentices go back into schools and colleges to give out the message on how good apprenticeships are.
At a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Apprenticeships Group, attended by about 30 young apprentices, I asked them, “How many of you were advised by your teachers in your school to take up an apprenticeship?”. About two hands went up; the vast majority of young people are still being propelled towards the academic path. There is nothing wrong with that, except that it is not suitable for them all. The guidance that is given in schools and colleges is still nowhere near good enough. If you want to improve that situation, you have to make sure that there are links to the business community. It would not harm primary as well as secondary schools to do that. When young people see apprentices coming back to the school, saying what a great experience an apprenticeship is and how it has changed their lives—how they can earn while they learn—it is one of the most powerful messages that they can get from people who were part of their peer group.
I look forward to the Minister’s response. I have a whole range of questions that I should like to put to her on the Richard review. Will she confirm whether the Secretary of State for Education will provide funding to deliver improved awareness in schools of apprenticeship opportunities, as recommended by the Richard review? What measures does Secretary of State for Education intend to take to ensure that apprenticeships are properly promoted in schools? What measures does the Minister intend to take to support smaller businesses to engage with the apprenticeship system?
We should not have to wait yet another six months or so. There are easy options, some of which I have described, that the Government could be taking now. Concepts such as group training associations are nothing new—in fact, the National Apprenticeship Service should be driving them—but more determination on the part of the Government is needed. They should give out a very positive signal that if you want a government contract, you have to commit yourself to taking on a number of apprentices. If the HS2 goes ahead—I hope that it does—one would need only one apprentice for every £1 million of investment to generate some 33,000 apprenticeships. That is a sobering thought, but it will not happen unless it is made an absolute requirement. There could be so much benefit. If one considers what Crossrail did, how it engaged with its contractors and SMEs and got them to take on apprenticeships, one can see the benefit of that approach.
I still think that the Government’s response to the Richard review is a lost opportunity and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I am sorry that in parts of it he was rather more negative than he usually is on this subject. However, I pay tribute to him and to his Government for what they did to revive the apprenticeship scheme in their time, and we are building on that and taking it forward.
Perhaps I may take up some of the noble Lord’s questions. He mentioned the high level of youth unemployment, which is mercifully coming down, although not fast enough. Of course, we have a revitalised apprenticeship programme, which, alongside an employability skills programme, will help young people to take up opportunities. We also have the traineeship programme in place, and that, too, will be of assistance to young people in getting back into employment. National Apprenticeship Week is certainly a great success. It is raising the profile of apprenticeships this week and has gone from strength to strength. It was interesting to see that the apprentice of the year was a young woman engineer at British Aerospace. She is obviously doing an awful lot for gender equality in STEM subjects, as well as personally raising the profile of all the good things that apprenticeships can do.
The noble Lord mentioned, as he has done before, public procurement and having a set number of apprenticeships for every public procurement exercise. Of course, we support the appropriate use of public procurement to promote the take-up of apprenticeships, but under EU law we cannot make contracts conditional on hiring workers or apprentices, so the Government leave—
We did not find that to be a problem. That was said to me when I was a Minister, yet we challenged it and were able to bring about those apprenticeships. I am just asking the Minister not to accept that. We have never called for a set number of apprenticeships, although there are various formulae. I find what the Minister says regarding apprenticeships being part of a public procurement contract incredible. I had exactly the same response but we challenged it and were able to bring about apprenticeships with Crossrail and the Olympics. I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to challenge that and to show determination.
I note what the noble Lord says. Obviously we try to encourage firms to take apprentices, but we use that route rather than making contracts conditional on it. However, I know of the success of the Crossrail apprenticeship scheme and how well that worked.
The noble Lord mentioned awareness of apprenticeships, and that links into careers information, advice and guidance, which of course is now statutory in schools. As part of that, they now have to give information about apprenticeships as well as about higher education and other opportunities. We have recently heard the Prime Minister reiterate that it should now be the norm for young people to go into either higher education or an apprenticeship, so we are putting a great focus on that. One of the things that Ofsted will monitor in schools is how well careers information, advice and guidance is delivering that aspect of opportunities for young people. The noble Lord is absolutely right: there is a real issue concerning the number of young people, parents and employers who are aware of the range of opportunities that are available. The more publicity we can get for this programme, the more we will be able to engage all those parties in seeing the benefits of apprenticeships for all.
We know that apprentice alumni go back into schools. Obviously there is not a particularly co-ordinated programme but we are aware that it happens and that it can be extraordinarily effective. Any former pupil going back into a school to talk with enthusiasm about what they are doing is a tremendous motivator for the next generation, and we will certainly do what we can to encourage that.
Of course, apprentices have to be in a job. So far as concerns insisting that schools, colleges and so on take on apprentices, it is important that a job is identified for them beforehand. Again, there is an ongoing programme of raising awareness and of making the opportunities available.
The noble Lord talked about the links between businesses and schools. We know that these are absolutely crucial, and work is ongoing in this respect. We are not waiting six months for any of this to happen; it is all ongoing at present. Discussions take place between employers and education providers—schools, businesses and higher education—to make absolutely sure that employers are aware of the benefits of having apprentices and that young people, and indeed adult returners, are aware of the possibilities of apprenticeships.
Going back to careers information and guidance, Ofsted will have a review in the summer to assess just how well the delivery of apprenticeship careers advice is going. We will keep a monitoring eye on that.
The noble Lord mentioned demand outstripping supply and a number of cases where the extremely efficient apprenticeship schemes are hugely important. He said that time was marching on but we are now taking action. I hope that the Opposition will see that in many ways this is a cross-party initiative. As I said, we are building on the work that his party did in government, and we hope that we will be able to take it forward so that it becomes a very exciting and vibrant programme.
My Lords, in thanking the Minister for her Statement and echoing the enthusiasm for apprenticeships that is shared in all parts of the House, may I ask whether she has had any discussion with those in the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff who have also been considering proposals on apprenticeships? Is she looking at the cross-border issues, in particular? I am thinking of a company such as BAE, which might be located in north-east Wales but with a good proportion of the workforce coming from over the border in north-west England. Are the schemes that she is considering employer-led or individual-led? Obviously in those circumstances, it could raise some problems.
Indeed, discussions are ongoing with the devolved communities to ensure that we have a UK-wide programme. There are border issues as the noble Lord suggests. A lot of the apprenticeships are employer-led. We are increasingly making sure that employers define what they want by way of an apprenticeship and the sort of people they want. We certainly hope that boundaries between Wales and England will be no barrier to any good apprentice getting an opportunity.
My Lords, I declare an interest as president of William Morris Craft Fellowship and patron of the Heritage Crafts Association. Will my noble friend recognise how important it is for young people to be encouraged to go into these highly skilled crafts? Will she accept that most of the members of the Heritage Crafts Association are one-man or one-woman businesses? It is extremely difficult for them to take on apprentices, much as they might wish to do so. Some of the crafts are in danger of dying out. Will she do everything that she can to encourage young men and women in our schools and colleges to consider a career in what I call traditional crafts?
My noble friend makes a valid point. I have been involved for a long time with the livery companies which were the very early providers of many of those old heritage crafts. As he says, many of them are extremely small businesses—microbusinesses. We hope that we will get feedback from the ongoing consultation that will help us to focus on those particular crafts and skills because many of them are extremely important to our heritage. As my noble friend says, with such very small numbers, it is difficult to have the critical mass for them to continue. I hope that he will contribute to the consultation and bring forward ideas on how we can help very small businesses.
I thank my noble friend for the announcement on apprenticeships. I congratulate the Government on expanding the numbers, and on the good publicity for taking on something that is basically skilled manual work and showing it as a valid alternative to the idea of higher education. However, I am afraid that I have to return to my regular song on this. What are we doing to ensure that people who cannot pass the English and maths assessment get through? I mean those who have dyslexia and dyscalculia, which are the two biggest things—a rough estimate is that 13% of the population are in those two spectrums. An English and maths qualification can cause a problem for that group for whom working with their hands would be the natural way forward. As night follows day, if someone does not want to be qualified for a white-collar job, he should be doing something requiring manual skills.
At the moment, universities and the Government, through the disabled students allowance, allow a dyslexic student to take a degree. At the moment there are tremendous problems in getting that same person through the key stage 2 English equivalent test. We have moved in the past few years from, “It can’t be done; it’s very difficult; are you sure it can be done? It’s not my fault”. When will the Government grab this by the back of the neck and make sure that, according to the duties under the Equality Act, this group are through?
In the snappily titled, The Future of Apprenticeships in England: Next Steps from the Richard Review, there are two questions. Question 13 asks:
“What are the specific obstacles to all Apprentices achieving level 2 English and maths as part of their Apprenticeship, and how could these be overcome?”.
Question 14 asks:
“How would a requirement to have all Apprentices achieve level 2 in English and maths impact on employers, providers and potential learners? What are the risks and potential solutions?”.
If those two questions do not give us a chance to have that answered properly, I do not know what does.
My noble friend is right to point to the difficulties for people with dyslexia and other forms of learning disadvantage in passing traditional tests and exams. It has been identified that certain levels of maths and English are important even in very practical areas, but we are looking to the consultation to give us further ideas so that young people, or indeed adults, are not disadvantaged when they have, as he says, very practical skills but cannot meet stringent requirements for maths and English. We will look at the different ways in which these areas can be assessed in order to ensure that young people are not disadvantaged in securing proper, high-quality apprenticeships. The assessment should not make it more difficult for them to demonstrate their skill areas.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I welcome the importance that is being attached to apprenticeships. Historically they have proved to be important both to people who have gone through them and to their employers. I want to focus on one sentence in the Statement. I hope it means what I think it does, because it marks a significant step forward. It states:
“And we are extending apprenticeships to higher level skills, and into the professions like insurance, accountancy and the law”.
The trend over recent decades has been to make entrance to many more professions graduate-only, which has made them more and more socially exclusive and difficult for people who historically were able to take alternative routes without going through a degree course. If this means a check on that trend and perhaps a reversal so that different routes into these professions become more widely available, that is, as I say, a significant step forward.
I should like a little more detail. Have discussions been held with the professions as to how this might be done? Is it possible to extend this to other professions such as journalism, which I know reasonably well? Many would enter it at the age of 16 by working on the local newspaper, whereas now across wide swathes of the profession, entry is virtually graduate-only. Also, can the Minister give us some idea of the timescale and whether any targets are in mind? However, I repeat that this is to be warmly welcomed if it really means that there is to be a wider and more socially inclusive method of entry into a whole range of professions that have been steadily excluding people over recent decades.
I welcome the comments of the noble Lord, who I am sure like me remembers the days when there were many practical routes into all these professions and trades—routes that over the years have become graduate-only. We in no way wish to downplay the value of degrees, but an important step in raising the profile and breadth of apprenticeships will be taken if they can be linked to the status and standing that these sorts of professions have. It is definitely something that we are encouraging. We have not set any targets yet, and again I come back to the fact that this is a consultation period. However, we have been in discussions with the different professional areas. At the moment we have a total of 27 projects and two trailblazers, which will provide more than 25,000 higher apprenticeship places over the next three years. Those higher apprenticeships are going to be available in the very areas we are discussing. People are embarking on apprenticeships in a much wider range of professional and work areas than those that are traditionally associated with them.
My Lords, following on from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about heritage, the impression was given that this was really quite a small affair. It is not. This is a business that has a turnover of over £5 billion and is growing. I urge the Minister to make sure that we try to support every growing sector of the economy. This is a growing sector, and apprenticeships here are important to grow the economy as well as for the tourist industry and the other things that she mentioned.
I apologise if I gave the impression that the heritage industry was small. I was trying to make the point that many of the component parts of it are very small. The noble Lord is absolutely right that it is a very important part of tradition and, of course, of the tourist industry, to which it makes a great contribution. However, it is much more important than that, too: it includes a very diverse range of skill and work areas and it is vital that we do not lose sight of these.
My Lords, I will take advantage of the fact that we have not exhausted the time. This is a really key issue. I apologise if I sounded negative. I do not want to be negative but just want to get the Government to recognise the size and scale of the problem. Even though the Minister says that youth unemployment is coming down, as I am sure she knows, in some parts of the country it is not and the levels are very high, so I want to try to inject a sense of urgency into the situation.
The Minister did not really respond to the point that I made about there still being only a very small number of businesses participating in apprenticeships. What positive steps are the Government going to take? For instance, addressing the very worthwhile point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about heritage craft skills, the difficulty with those small businesses—sometimes it is just one person on their own or a small group—is, first, that they face what they see as an administrative burden and, secondly, that they worry about whether they can carry an apprentice and create that job. That is why, again, they need to be encouraged to create their own little hubs and group training associations, where some of that administrative burden can be shared.
I am critical because, as I have said, there is a danger that in the first attempt we are driving up volume rather than quality as well, although that is being addressed, which I welcome. Interestingly, one my noble friend Lord Grocott’s point, I met a young apprentice accountant as part of the Crossrail scheme. When we talk about apprenticeships, we seem to forget that what they involve is much more wide-ranging than manual skills: there are over 200 apprenticeship frameworks. We have gone well beyond what used to be regarded as the traditional route. In relation to the higher level—
I did wait to see whether there were any further Back-Bench speakers and there were not, so I took the opportunity. If there are any, I will give way. However, as there are not, I will just use the opportunity that we have.
On higher-level apprenticeships, again, there is a view that it is an either/or choice: you either take an apprenticeship or you go to university. However, it should not be an either/or choice because, as we know, higher-level apprenticeships can lead to university degrees. I will end on that.
I was in no way complacent about youth unemployment. We all know that it is a disastrous start for many young people if they cannot get into a job and into work when they finish their compulsory education. The noble Lord mentioned getting employers more involved. There is now, for instance, a £1,500 start-up to help SMEs get their first apprenticeship scheme going. We have seen 6,800 starts between February and October 2012, and there are a further 12,100 in the pipeline.
As for small and medium-sized enterprises, an increasing number of employers are coming on board and taking on apprenticeships. As for the larger firms, discussions are ongoing with some of the major firms that take significant numbers of apprentices. The noble Lord mentioned BT. There is also BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. Some very large firms have extraordinarily well established apprenticeship programmes, and the Government are in constant dialogue with them to try to ensure that best practice can be passed on and that it is made as easy as possible for employers to take on apprenticeships. One of our other challenges is to reduce the bureaucracy so that there are no unnecessary disincentives to employers taking on apprenticeships. Of course, more work needs to be done, and we very much look forward to the results of the consultation and to ensuring that we take that implementation forward in the autumn.
My Lords, if second innings are being allowed, is my noble friend aware that the William Morris Craft Fellowship is always willing to visit schools and other institutions to encourage young people? Many members of the Heritage Crafts Association are indeed in the position indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Young, in that they are tiny—sometimes one-man or one-woman—businesses. Nevertheless, they are anxious to share their skills and expertise, but they also need help and encouragement of a positive, and indeed financial, nature to take on apprentices and train them fully. Some of these crafts take a long time to master.
Indeed, only two days ago we had a group in the House from the Heritage Crafts Association, including a tailor from Savile Row, a maker of wonderful leather goods and a calligrapher, all of whom are more than willing to do whatever they can to help but are very much in need—not so much the tailor from Savile Row, probably—of assistance and encouragement. Can we look to the Government to take advantage of the offers that are on the table and further assist and encourage these extremely important crafts and craftspeople?
My Lords, we have three minutes. I will take 30 seconds. Not surprisingly, the Minister was getting notes from the Box in response to my question, which was in a fairly narrow area of her brief. Will she undertake to write to me with as much detail as she has available on this subject of apprenticeships into various professions, and place a copy of whatever information she can provide in the Library?
Yes, I will certainly be very happy to do that. I do not want to sound like a broken record, but I repeat that these issues are out for consultation and we very much hope to hear feedback from the professions that have already expressed interest to see how we can increase these areas.
House adjourned at 3.38 pm.