Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the resilience of the United Kingdom in the face of economic and climatic challenges and pressures on public services.
My Lords, I have not come to moan or blame climate change. While all the issues that I shall raise are not the fault of the coalition, they are not the fault of the previous Labour Government either. I shall not deal with threats or malicious actions, but concentrate on hazards, natural accidents policy et cetera. This is also an opportunity to thank emergency services personnel for their magnificent work so far this winter. The statutory services have delivered. Environment Agency staff deserve special thanks if for no other reason than that they do not normally get the recognition they deserve. Then there is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, funded exclusively by the public so that Whitehall’s hands are not anywhere near it. It has been courageous in coastal waters and vital in the inland floods. I declare an interest as a governor member.
The Cabinet Office, which will answer this debate for the Government, has published each year since 2008 an unclassified version of the national risk assessment in the form of the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies. It is an incredibly useful tool, though it does not cover all aspects of what I want to raise today, some of which includes the resilience of society at large in a social sense. I am also well aware from my time in government of the massive amount of planning and the exercises that take place to prepare for emergencies and test our resilience. The proof of proper planning and preparation preventing poor performance is the 2012 Olympics, but we seem in some ways to be scrimping along as a nation. That is a worry and why I want to raise these issues today.
On power supplies, the energy bosses from npower and EDF—as well as the former boss of Ofgem—spent a good deal of airtime in 2013 warning of power cuts due to lack of investment. National Grid’s Winter Outlook this winter says that the margins are tighter than we have ever seen. Ofgem says that if we get a 1-in-20 bad winter there will be real trouble as the risk of blackouts has tripled. Yet I opened the paper today only to see that E.ON is about to close one power station and run three others down—now, in the middle of winter. I accept that that is not all the fault of the coalition but it does not demonstrate the urgency that we need in this matter. The national risk register almost boasts that we have never had a total power outage—a point that it makes more than once. On gas storage, it remains the case that, unlike Italy, Germany and France, which can store between 59 and 87 days’ supply of gas, UK storage remains at 16 days. No action has been taken on that.
I also want to raise the issue of animal disease. We are only ever a phone call away from a vet in the field reporting a major outbreak. Heaven forbid that we have another foot and mouth outbreak, but we will at some point. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology’s POSTnote No. 392 tells us that measures for dealing with foot and mouth were exercised in 2011 under the codename “Silver Birch”. Do we have the vaccines at the ready and a willingness to use them, or, as was the case in 2001 and 2007, will industry be allowed to call the shots and avoid for a third time using vaccination? We dealt effectively with bluetongue in sheep and salmonella in poultry by vaccination. Are we ready for foot and mouth, as we were—as that POSTnote explains—in the exercises?
Last December, in a panic, the Department for Education made over £2 billion available for the rising school population. The children affected have all been born since the coalition formed—let us get that one out of the way. We are in a crisis where some local authorities will require 75% more places by 2015 than they had last September, and I would cite Norfolk, Thurrock and Croydon. Very substantial increases will be required in several other local authorities by 2016. Can we deliver on that? Local authorities are both a service delivery organisation for schools and a strategic education authority for an area. However, they can only extend local authority schools—they are not allowed to build or open any new schools and have no power to direct academies or free schools to open in a particular area. Who will spend the money on that? Surely we need a single capital pot for an area, irrespective of who runs the school. We are walking into a crisis affecting early years schooling. It is not too late to change that, but we cannot plan to have school places in the right locations quickly enough under the present system.
I do not have an issue with making local authorities and services more efficient, more accountable and better value for money—we are in desperate times—but with some councils it can appear that their own vested or narrow political interest is sometimes put above what the local citizens require. We have got to the point where the cuts now threaten key services—that has not really started yet. Street cleaning, adult social care, children’s services and the arts and libraries are all for the massive chop. Those areas affect our public, physical and mental health. We need the arts and libraries just the same. Much council spending is invisible to the population because most people do not actually use the services and only the vulnerable will feel the impact. For most people, when the services collapse what they see is the rubbish uncollected in the street. Then it comes home to them that someone from the local authority should have dealt with it. There is a problem of visibility there.
I am sure that some noble Lords will raise NHS issues in this debate. I do not intend to go down that road but observe that we are in a national obesity crisis. Yet my question to the Minister is: are we prepared for the increase in malnutrition among young children? That is an inevitable consequence of attacking the poor, both those in and those out of work. We know that Ministers do not like food banks, which makes matters even worse; yet the food banks are now under such pressure that they have to supply cold boxes and kettle boxes for those who cannot afford to use gas or electricity to cook food. There is also some evidence—I do not have the details of this as I heard it vaguely only yesterday—that more people are shopping day to day for food. The supermarkets can track this very tightly in urban areas. That means that if there is interruption from either power or transport our resilience as regards food may not be as good as in the past.
I also want to raise with the Government the issue of science laboratory capacity. I hope that somebody is doing something about it. We actually had a laboratory close at the height of the horsemeat scandal last March and many laboratory tests had to be sent out of the UK to other countries. Our laboratories are the ultimate mixture of academic, private, independent and local authority, and they are a vital UK strategic national asset. In my view, the Government’s chief scientist should lead on this. We need the laboratories for regulation and investigation as well as for the assurances required by industry for all kinds of events—that is, food, human and animal events as well as chemical, nuclear and biological threat events, which I will not raise today. We are on the edge of a real capacity problem as regards laboratories and the numbers of public analysts. The president of the Association of Public Analysts, Liz Moran, has on more than one occasion told parliamentary committees that we are in serious trouble in terms of our capacity. There were 41 analysts in 2007. There are 29 currently and that is due to go down to 28. That is a real problem for consumer and citizen protection, which will be the loser. It is a serious issue and has to be treated nationally.
Housing policy has never been politically sexy, at least not since the time of Harold Macmillan. That applies as much to my own party as to others, and I speak as someone who carried the portfolio for some years in opposition and briefly in government. There is no sense of a national plan. Demand is up due to the open borders demanded by the CBI and others to help keep wages down. Yet supply is so small that the inevitable happens: mobility ceases, debt for individuals goes sky high and we spend billions of pounds supporting landlords’ lifestyles rather than adding to stocks of bricks and mortar. The nearest we ever got to a plan in recent years was the communities plan published by my noble friend Lord Prescott in 2003. The successors of both parties seem to have got quite bored in delivering that.
The coalition appears to be at a complete loss about this major national, regional and intergenerational housing crisis, with millions of hidden homeless people in addition to those on the street. Land is not a problem. Some 1% to 2% of land plus the brownfield sites would solve our problems for 20 years. The reasoning is simple. Urban developments at present amount to about 11% of the land, national parks to 8%, areas of outstanding national beauty to 16% and the green belt to 14%. That adds up to 49%, so over 50% is available to take the 1% to 1.5% that we need to solve our problem. That is simple. Without building on any of the areas I have just touched on, enough land is available. Yet the best summing up of this I have found was a sentence in a very old essay:
“Democratic governments drift along the line of least resistance, taking short views, paying their way with sops and doles, and smoothing their path with pleasant-sounding platitudes”.
That describes the coalition’s housing policy but it was actually a sentence from the seminal 1931 essay by Winston Churchill in the Strand Magazine.
Weather events happen with or without climate change, let us be clear about that. The national risk register covers the lot. Two years ago, drought was a key crisis. We have to think about the serious volatility of changes in climate. The Thames barrier has a limited life. I had already put this in my notes, and I was really worried when I heard yesterday about the delay. The Thames barrier is sinking, and we are going to wait until 2070 before we start having a look at it. Flood defences are more than walls and dams: they should be environmental as well. I commend to the Government—I am sure that someone has read it—the major article by George Monbiot last week. It appeared first on Tuesday in the Guardian and then on two pages in the Mail on Sunday. True, the latter newspaper used it to attack the EU but the article was the same in both. George Monbiot highlighted the methods for preventing floods that UK scientists have being using for years in the tropics—planting trees in the hills to save and protect communities down stream from flooding. Here, we pay farmers to grub up trees and hedges and plant the hills with pretty grass and use sheep to maintain the chocolate box image, and then we wonder why we have floods where we should not really have them and which we could prevent if we took the advice. Monbiot says that water sinks into soil under trees at 67 times the rate that it sinks in under grass, so why are we not doing that in the UK in areas that we know flood unnecessarily?
My last point on floods is to express concern that the plan for sustainable insurance known “Flood Re” has again been delayed. I will not go into detail but the Swiss Re system for terrorism insurance has worked incredibly well, and I do not see why it cannot work for major floods. It could work for major animal disease outbreaks. The taxpayer is protected because the system allows a market in terrorism insurance to operate. If it is a good enough system to cover buildings in the City of London for terror attacks, the principle should be good enough to ensure that insurance is available for householders in major floods. The pool system works at all times except the most catastrophic, which is when the Treasury stands behind the pool. It is cheaper for the taxpayer in the long run.
Did I just mention the Treasury? I think for social resilience we have a problem with the Treasury. Resilience is the process of being able to return to the original state after being deformed, but we know that the Chancellor wants a smaller state. He wants to cut the public sector by making what he calls hard choices. His hard choices are the ones he finds easy to make, and are only hard on those affected who, in the main, are the weak and disadvantaged. His hard choices are to diminish local authorities, set the old against the young and not even talk about doing it in a fairer way. The young do not vote. Their turnout is two-thirds the rate of the rest, so if they do not vote and threaten him at the ballot box, why should he bother? I do not like this approach, to be honest. One reason is the seeming total lack of compassion and comprehension. It is not nice.
I looked around to try to explain the Chancellor’s approach to creating intergenerational conflict and a breakdown in general of the resilience of society, and I chose Donald Rumsfeld. We are all familiar with Rumsfeld’s quote from 2002 about the three categories of the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. He did not invent them—they had been around for a while—but there is a fourth category highlighted by a psychoanalytical philosopher who I am greatly familiar with, Slavoj Žižek: the unknown known, or that which we intentionally refuse to acknowledge that we know. That is a perfect fit for the Chancellor. He knows what he is doing but refuses to acknowledge it and its consequences.
I was looking around, thinking about what would be a good example of this to finish on, and I found it on the front page of today’s Telegraph, which quotes the police:
“Documents disclosed by the Association of Chief Police Officers show plans have been drawn up for the cannon to be used …Police warn they expect water cannon will be required because ‘the ongoing and potential future of austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest’”.
If the Government are in discussions with the Home Office preparing for problems on the streets because of austerity and they are preparing to be resilient against those who protest, why can they not prepare for all the other issues I have raised today?
My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on having secured and opened this debate with such a bravura performance. He is such a skilful and persuasive leader of opinion in your Lordships’ House. One of my most vivid parliamentary memories in a dozen years in this Chamber was his retort to a member of the Opposition who essayed a criticism of the Government’s flood plain policy, so the rationale of this debate is no surprise.
I shall pick up two things he said at the end of his speech. First, I would like to advise him in the context of the Treasury that I have been in gumboots down in the cellars of the Treasury where there is, in fact, a great deal of water. Some of it may have been moved since I was a Treasury Minister, but I do not think it is likely that it has all gone. Secondly, I have not read the piece which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, quoted about water cannon, but out of Northern Ireland experience, I can say that water cannon is a remarkably inflexible weapon. You have to have a particular domain if you wish to use it. I say that simply to inform the debate.
The noble Lord has given some of us, if not all of us, help in joining him in this debate by the wording of the Motion. My Oxford dictionaries are in Wiltshire, but my Chambers dictionary, which is here, defines the word “resilience” as,
“recoil: elasticity, physical or mental … [L. resilire, to leap back—salire, to leap.].
For the benefit of the Hansard writer I mention that that is the Latin infinitive for “to leap” and not Salieri as in Mozart.
My noble friend Lord Ridley will make a much better informed and more distinguished speech than I shall, just as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has done, and it is only the elasticity of the Motion that enables me to speak at all. My remarks will be microeconomic rather than macroeconomic, but after 24 years representing an inner London seat, I now no longer live here, but in the east-west Nadder valley in Wiltshire, which contains along its length road, rail and river, the rail being sensibly elevated so that the river causes most of its inconveniences to the roads. I am not proposing to dilate on climate change, although of course I recognise its relevance in this context on both sides of the argument, and I admire and applaud the surefootedness of those who have strong views on both sides of the divide.
In thanking the House of Lords Library for the admirable development of its policy of furnishing speakers in general debates with Library briefing, I will remark in passing that I daily read the Times backwards at breakfast, starting with cricket, then using as a stepping-stone to death, both obituaries and classified, the fascinating daily articles entitled “Weather” which the Times now has before proceeding to the stock market, leaving everything else to read at leisure after 10 o’clock at night. Our Library produced an excellent briefing for today, although I hope it is not going to make a habit of one feature in today’s briefing wherein the Select Committee’s examination of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr Paterson, suddenly jumped without warning from page 7, in the final line of which badgers occurred twice, to page 11, on which deer appear in the second and third lines. Establishing the connection in this instance is relatively easy in terms of what has been recorded in the intervening four pages, and it may have the makings of an ingenious pencil-and-paper game late at night, but it later moves from page 12 to page 19, and some scintilla of forewarning might be helpful.
The value of the briefing, as of this debate, is the concentration on the long term, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, paid tribute. When in the 1970s, I was running a multinational firm in the private sector, I used to take a day off once a year to attend an annual seminar conducted by a futurological polymath from the Hudson Institute outside New York, whose erudition can be briefly indexed by his reply to a question about why the Japanese had settled occidentally more in Brazil than in any other country. He said: “I have always understood that it was because the Japanese found Portuguese easier to learn than any other European language”. At a time when manufacturing was beginning its long decline here, he reassured us that we were well prepared for post-industrial society by the extent of our superiority in education—especially higher education—government and health. I have spent the past 40 years admiring his percipience, but also wondering if we were making the most of our development in these particular salients.
I have also always regretted that constituency pressures in the Commons encourage MPs to enter the ranks of last-ditch defenders and protesters whenever small primary schools or elderly hospitals were past their sell-by dates while still dearly loved by constituents nearby. In this particular era, when communities are threatened by economic or climactic pressures, I can join the regrets of some that the big society has been less than wholly successful in catching on, but that is not a reason for the instincts of the big society not to be pursued by those who favour them. Indeed, on what is, appositely, the “ill wind” principle, flooding brings out the best in all of us in terms of mutual aid. I live in a hamlet, the population of which does not run to three figures, and which is sandwiched within the five miles that separate two National Health Service surgeries, one in a village of more than 600, and the other of more than 2,000. We use the former, which has a high elderly component but, simultaneously, perhaps because of its community vigour, a very low incidence of dementia. If good is best done by stealth, some of us pay our savings from freedom from prescription charges back into the practice’s coffers to be used for the good of local collective health. In the same way, rural parishes have the advantage of centuries-old charities into which, again, some can discreetly feed benefits which they do not need, the determination of need deriving, sensibly, from local personal knowledge.
An area, however, where I hope that we can improve, is actual performance knowledge among national charities. To take the current humanitarian tsunami, one can use the default option for sending one’s mite to the Disasters Emergency Committee for onward transmission to its underlying members. However, we do not, to my knowledge, have an equivalent of Which? in the charitable arena. It would mesh in its productivity component with Nesta’s estimate in the IPPR element in the Library briefing that if productivity growth from 1995 to 2007 were or had been the same in the UK public sector as in the private sector, the UK Government would be spending £63 billion less every year; although, of course, I acknowledge that the comparison is not like with like.
If I break my Trappist vow on climate change and allow that possible acute climate change in the Mediterranean may produce population transfer into Nordic countries, including ourselves, then attention to advanced Nordic practice elsewhere may well be worth early study. Before the wall came down in the 1989 detente, the population and the physical space in West Germany was exactly the same as ours. The reunion of Germany has taken it away from that equivalence and moved it in the direction of France. These are potential equations for us to address in the same category of long-term thinking as this debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, also referred to the performance of local government. In what is presumably, not yet, but close to, the valedictory analysis of the Audit Commission of municipal data, I was encouraged by its favourable judgment on the clear majority of councils’ resilience, even if there were a handful of parameters which variably put the weaker councils in a minority from 10% to 30% in terms of their being able to cope with the unexpected. Their evidence was the more helpful, in that it effected comparisons between different categories of council. Since I noted that unitary councils were only buoyant and afloat by 53% to 47%, the latter being the highest figure where anxiety was registered, I must hope, as a Wiltshire resident, that we come in the former grouping. That said, the fact that nine out of 10 councils are regarded as well placed to deliver their budgets in 2013-14 gives us some short-term leeway.
As for the private sector, the Charities Aid Foundation reported last year that only one in 34 employees in Britain gave to charity through payroll giving in the prior year, although that is essentially a function of the fact that fewer than 8,500 of the UK’s 4.8 million employers offer their staff the opportunity to do so. However, 31% of employees said that they would be likely to give if the chance were afforded them, which would increase charitable giving by £175 million. Nearly two-thirds of employees believed that more employees would actively support charities at work if they were allowed to nominate a charity to support that year.
To end on a particularly resilient note, I understood orally this morning from the Charities Aid Foundation that, in global research, all things considered, a British subject was more likely to make a charitable donation, which I translate as being more likely to make a pledge, than an inhabitant of almost any other country. I am not going to turn this into a television quiz show, but some in your Lordships’ House may be surprised by the fact that our only superior is Burma.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for being slightly briefer than the time he was allowed. I also congratulate and thank my noble friend Lord Rooker for getting this debate, and for speaking so forcefully on it. Some of us, with not longer memories than that of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, but with perhaps a more selective memory, of course remember the Rooker-Wise amendment back in the 1970s. Those of us who come from a certain tradition remember with a great deal of pride that he moved that amendment and the Government acted upon it.
I will make the debate a little broader than it is at present.
Well, not the debate; the debate is broad but the content so far has been limited. I am not going to talk about floods because, to be honest, I spent the period of the floods in Scotland where, although there were some floods, we did not suffer anything like as much. I spent the new year period on the Isle of Arran, where we have had worse new years than that.
We live in a society that is much changed and improved from the one that was there when the Labour Party—and my own family goes back a long way in the Labour movement—was formed. We ought, on this side of the House, to take a certain amount of pride in what we have achieved in the past 100 years, because we have achieved a great deal. However, one thing above all that we have achieved, which is where resilience comes in, is that there has never in those 100 years been an armed revolution, an uprising, in this country. I sometimes say that, historically, the only party in this country which has ever suggested an armed uprising is the Conservative Party, which in 1913-14 suggested that Ulster would be right if it rose up against the British state and armed itself and fought. Anyway, we have not had a revolution.
One of the reasons that we have not had a revolution is that the Labour Party has been democratic. We have believed in achieving our aims through democracy and not through some form of uprising or revolution. In my own city of Glasgow in 1919, there was a threat; people observed it as a threat and the Government of the day thought that it was a threat, but it never was—there was never a chance of there being a Russian revolution in this country. We must be aware of that fact, but we must also be aware that the world has changed very dramatically and we have helped that change. We live in a world which is changing very fast indeed; it has changed and will continue to do so. It is our job, in political circles, to manage the change that is going on. It used to be when I joined that our job in the Labour Party was to change society; now society is changing, and it is our job to manage that change for the benefit of those we represent.
There are two areas where we are not changing fast enough. One is in our democratic state itself. We are not developing our democracy fast enough and adapting our democracy to the changes. This building itself is representative of that fact. The building is falling down: everybody says it, and what do we do? We are talking about mending it, repairing it, changing it and staying here. This building was built before the motor car was invented, before television, before radio, before computers: it was built for carriages and for a class society that no longer exists, I hope. So why do we stay here? Why do we not build a brand new building for the 21st century somewhere else, designed for the technological revolution that has taken place, where we can genuinely carry out our democratic government processes, while we spend the money to turn this place into a high-class museum based around democratic principles? That is what we ought to be doing.
More importantly, we ought to look at how we carry out our democracy. The Minister will know well what I am about to say. The idea of voting in a general election by going to a school and putting a cross on a piece of paper with a pencil is absurd to many of our young people, for whom mobile technology is part and parcel of their life. It is one reason, only one, why our young people are put off the whole democratic process. They feel it has nothing to do with them. They vote on “Strictly Come Dancing” or “The X Factor” using their mobile phones. I am not suggesting that that is how we proceed. I know well, because my sons have admitted it, that they voted five or six times in some of those contests: there is no checking on it.
If we had some form of ID, some form of smart card technology, to say, “This is how you can vote, as long as you can prove who you are, and you can only vote once”, surely that is the way forward. It is a way to attract young people, a way of both stopping fraud in our electoral system and expanding the numbers of those who are able to vote. One would no longer be tied to going to a school. One would be able to vote in a wide range of places. Eventually, one would be able to vote in one’s own home and therefore the number of people who would be able to vote in general elections should—and will, in my view—increase quite considerably. It would also lead to a greater respect for politics among the young.
I have to ask both those on the Benches opposite and those on our own Benches to accept that the compulsory introduction of some form of smart card identification is going to be absolutely necessary in a modern world. We cannot go on avoiding this issue. Someone once described it to me as “a King Canute issue”, but I think that that is very unfair on King Canute as he said that it will have to come back. At some point we will have to have some form of identification, not just for electoral purposes, but it will be essential for the poor and those whom we represent in the Labour movement. All of us carry some form of ID: our parliamentary pass, our bank card, our passport, whatever it might be. It is the poor who lose out all the time from not having some form of identification which recognises them—through their social security or whatever it might be. We need to have some form of ID card compulsorily introduced, and I hope that our Labour Party will have that as part of its manifesto in 2015.
I turn lastly to the issue of education. I accept that my own experience is in a different education system, in Scotland, but I have a general point. It is absurd that in this day and age, when nearly all the world’s knowledge, philosophy and ideas are available on my tablet—here it is—or one even smaller than this, that we have a Secretary of State and a Government talking about returning to the basic principles of numeracy and literacy, sitting children in school, learning by rote. What sort of world is he living in? It is absurd. We ought to be ensuring that every child has access to learning, teaching them or showing them how to learn.
I would not dream of going to the library and looking up a fact. If I want a fact I look it up on this tablet. If I want to know what a philosopher thought, I look it up on this. I do not go running to a library or expect a teacher to have to tell me; I want to learn. Therefore our basic philosophy in education should be that education is about learning; literacy, numeracy and the other things are tools by which people learn. If they become redundant, as the wringer in the wash-house has become redundant, as all sort of tools have become redundant, then so be it.
I have not picked up a book in two years; I read a Kindle or I read on the tablet. I can read anything I want, and I can get it in two and a half minutes. I do not have to go to a bookshop and look at the books; I get it straightaway. Why is this not being made more readily available to our children so that they, too, can get this benefit in full? Many of them do; they are the middle-class children, the children of those of us who know how to manipulate and use the electronic systems. We must look to turn our education system towards learning, rather than teaching, towards children being able to use electronic devices to learn from, rather than all the time concentrating on the so-called basic skills that they need.
I finish by making this plea again. Please, please, please, we have to have an ID card. Please make sure that it is introduced as soon as possible.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, who made a very powerful speech. He has convinced me of most of his ideas just by bullying me incessantly on every occasion we meet, but he has not yet convinced me about identity cards. However, the debate can continue. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who is a wise parliamentarian. I have followed his career and, if he thinks that this is an important subject, that is good enough for me. His experience in government puts him in a very good position to take an overview and we owe him a debt for the way he introduced his debate. I confess that I share his sense of frustration and urgency and I hope that this debate will start bringing some much needed focus to this very important subject.
To lighten his reading load a little, I suggest something for him apart from reading his erudite philosopher. I picked up a very interesting book by an American professor, Tim Morton, entitled Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. It is about ignoring knowns, and he makes a very important point. He describes “hyperobjects”, some of which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, certainly identified. I have not finished it yet, so I do not know if there is a happy ending, but I would recommend it to colleagues for reading in future.
I suddenly became interested in the subject in autumn last year, when the Grangemouth Ineos dispute took place. Noble Lords will remember that it was a pretty tense moment north of the border. There was a lot of trade union and party-political infighting, and it had a resolution that was, thankfully, reasonably sensible. I was astonished to find that one company was in control of 85% of the petrol distribution in Scotland, a private company with some quite headstrong, controversial directors, who were making personal decisions. I think that it was all part of the war game. I am not completely naive; I think that there was quite a lot of tic-tac going on in the press to gain advantage in the dispute with the trade union. Some 800 jobs were at risk, and that is a very serious blow. But I was completely surprised to learn that North Sea oil could effectively be closed down for swathes of the northern part of the United Kingdom, simply because of the local difficulties of an individual commercial company.
It made me think that we need to think more carefully and deeply about how fast society is changing. The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, is right about that. The rate of change that we have in this country is often underestimated, and we do not think about it carefully enough. In particular, I am concerned about the long-time effect of ageing; it is good, because we are all going to live to 120, and I am making plans. But the resilience of us individually, physically, will change society really dramatically, not only in the dependency ratio in terms of creation of wealth to pay for pensions but the ability to be able to contribute to your local community. I have lived in the same village for 30 years; I used to play football with my neighbours, but we now have book clubs and meet for interest evenings. Intellectually, everybody is as sharp as a knife, but we all have new knees or shoulders, or whatever—and God bless the National Health Service, which provides these things. But with the best will in the world, if something dramatic and untoward happened, the physical ability that we had when I first came to live where I do has gone. That is a really significant change, which we have not bottomed out yet.
On top of climate change and the global integration of society, specialisation is the order of the day and you all know a little bit about the life you live but everything else is done by everyone else, so if a bit of it goes wrong, the resilience of the system fails. The rate of change is something that we must be concerned about in the course of this debate.
Politics does not handle this particularly well. That is a statement of the obvious, but the timeframe is too long for normal party politics. I am in favour of party politics; I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, by the way, that we need to invest some money in party politics. My 32 year-old son has raised exactly that question about the pencil cross once every five years as being absolutely useless in terms of what he wants to contribute. He is right about that. But the political system considers capital expenditure as an easy target; if there is ever any pressure on any budget, the first thing that goes is capital expenditure—and nobody cares, because they do not really know about it. I am getting much more concerned about the effect of continually salami-slicing long-term plans; you do not see it from month to month or from year to year, but over the distance, you suddenly find that 85% of the petrol distribution in Scotland is in the hands of one man. The political process needs to waken up to that.
It is also a bad thing that it is so cross-departmental. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has had experience of many departments, and he is in a very good position to have an overview of this. The Civil Service is still in silos, and society does not live in silos as much as it used to. The Cabinet Office does its best, and it gets high marks for doing the important work that it is doing with big data, and trying to stay abreast of technological issues. But somebody needs to give me confidence that in central government there is somebody like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—there may be a job for him—who stands back and can say, “In 15 or 20 years’ time we will be thinking of whatever it is”. We have the expertise here; we have the Meteorological Office, for example, which is a world expert at looking at climate change as it affects the weather. We need to think about how the political process deals with this long-term problem, which is becoming more and more of a problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was absolutely right to mention housing. If we got a housing policy that was worth the name and were systematic and careful, it would transform the lives of many of our citizens. It would certainly start to seriously attack the housing benefit budget, which is just lining the pockets of landlords, and that is in no one’s long-term interest.
The Cabinet Office is the place where this whole issue is brigaded. It would help me if it could try to co-ordinate across departmental budgets the resources that are in play here. I do not blame Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State, for getting slightly blindsided about what was actually being spent on flooding, because some of it is private and some of it is public. It is an easy thing to do. But I have no sense of what is happening in the pockets of the other departmental budgets, which are dealing with long-term planning for resilience, climate change and the rest, and I do not know if the figure exists. I am well aware of the national risk register, which I remind noble Lords was drawn up in 2008. I know that it has been updated since then, but 2008 was a different world in the context of how we live these days. So I have a plea to my noble friend on the Front Bench, if he can do it today. It would certainly make me sleep more easily in my bed at night if I had more of a sense of what across the piece central government is applying to resources. I am talking not just of financial resources but of the capacity of experts and the scientists in the labs. What is the global spend across central government that deals with this issue? We should know about that, and about the professional experts that we can call on to deal with these crises, as we must in future.
The policy prima facie looks okay. I have looked at some of the documentation, and there is a spread of interest over the phase of prevention, mitigation response and aftermath, with regard to implementation. All those areas are covered and should be covered. However, on the resources issue, how much operational weight is there behind policy? The consultation that was conducted in Scotland found favour with most of the respondents, but people did not actually believe that the money was behind the policy to make it work in the way set out in the documentation, and we should think about that more carefully.
I want to talk for a moment or two about technology. The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, knows more about this than I do, but he is right to say that technology is quintessentially important in education. I want to take that argument further in terms of what it can do in the event of untoward, unexpected environmental crises. There is what is happening with cloud computing and the extra services that are available that are internet-based, and the mobile nature of devices. If you have an internet connection, you can speak to anybody in the world at any time, day or night. I compliment the Cabinet Office for the excellent work that it is doing, allowing big data to be made available to everybody, open source, so that they can take advantage of that wherever they are. I am told that in a few years’ time, 75% of all government information will be online, which is an astonishing change. That is a resource that we have never had before.
Finally, and most importantly in the context of this debate, social media give people the capacity to interconnect in a way that we have never known before. We are not taking enough advantage of that. For example, if my village were suddenly cut off for some reason, we have enough communal knowledge about computing to be able both to communicate within the village community, and to tell the emergency centre, our local government and our regional government headquarters exactly what is going on.
Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, knows, devices will soon be wearable. We will all have Google Glass, and go around wearing specs with cameras on them. I wait for the day when the Clerk of the Parliaments comes in and brings the House to order wearing his Google Glass device, because they will be able to stream that to Hong Kong. No doubt there are people in Hong Kong who would like to know what he is looking at. I am being facetious; none the less, that does make my point. If I am in the middle of a crisis in my village and I want to know what is happening, I can just switch my specs on. We need to invest in that, in the capacity and in the confidence building for people who will happily volunteer in their own communities and try to help their neighbours in an adverse situation. I think that if that is properly planned and worked out, we can transform our ability to communicate in real time.
Feedback is really important. What really cheeses people off in a flood is not being able to get through on the telephone line—and even when they can, getting the message, “We’ve got no information.” That is unacceptable. We should not allow public service contracts to be let to anybody, whether energy providers or anybody else, unless there is a clause in the contract saying something like, “In extremis, you must keep some percentage of resilience available—and you’re not getting your money unless you can convince the Civil Service people letting the contracts that you will run call centres or technological communication systems that will at least say to people, ‘I know who you are. I don’t know what’s going on but I’ll get back to you, and you can rely on that’—and it happens”.
Something else that we do not do well enough is the wash-up procedures and the feedback after the event—the aftermath. So there is a lot to do. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. This is a very important subject, and I hope that the House will return to it in future. I also hope that the political process will get a better handle on the real future risks that we face.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, on this debate, and on the ingenuity with which he and others have stretched the description to cover all sorts of subjects. It is turning into a bit of a Rorschach test, whereby we can all read our own preferences into the shape of the topic of the debate. I have not followed the good example set by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, of looking “resilience” up in the dictionary; I wish I had. I was thinking of that word as meaning a combination of adaptation and sustainability—in other words, the extent to which we can adapt sustainably to changes that are likely to happen.
Over the past three centuries, the UK has probably been one of the most resilient countries on the planet—economically, socially, politically, militarily, scientifically and intellectually. We have been written off again and again, yet we have bounced back rather well. Indeed, yesterday’s unemployment figures suggest that we are bouncing back relatively well at the moment, although admittedly that is in a much shorter-term context.
Why is that? Essentially, it is because of two factors about this country. One is trade; the other is innovation. The fact that we have been connected to the world means that we have been interdependent on the world and we have had mutual support from the world, in various ways, over many centuries. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. History teaches that reliance on trade, far from making countries more vulnerable, actually reduces risk and increases resilience. A good example of that is world trade in food, which means that a bad harvest, such as we had last year, does not result in famine, or even in hunger, because we are able to adjust through the price mechanism throughout the world.
In the 1690s, there was a series of bad harvests in France and 15% of the entire population starved to death, despite a famous victory in which Jean Bart managed to recapture a convoy of 120 grain ships from Norway that had been captured by the Dutch—even that was not enough to prevent mass starvation. There was no such mass starvation in this country, just 25 short miles away. In those days, there was not enough trade to equalise the supply of food around the world.
Resilience means getting access to products, services and ideas wherever they are invented. That is what world trade does for us—and, conversely, it also gets markets for our own ideas, services and products. It is no accident that countries that cut themselves off from trade suffer terrible shortages and famines. We only have to look at North Korea for a contemporary example. Another point that I want to make, which relates to something that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said, is that resilience also includes not borrowing vast sums from our grandchildren, if we can help it. That, essentially, is what we have been doing with our deficit spending.
The other element of resilience is that it requires innovation. If we in Britain cease to innovate, we will become far more vulnerable to global problems. There was a good example of that this week, when Paolo Scaroni, the chief executive of Eni, the Italian petrochemical company, said that the shale gas revolution in the US was not just a massive competitive advantage to the US, but,
“a real emergency for Europe”.
By that he meant that, because of the falling price of energy in the United States and the use of gas as a feedstock there, chemical, steel and manufacturing industries are bailing out of Europe and rapidly rebuilding in the United States. That is a real threat to us, unless we can join in by lowering our energy prices here. That is resilience for them, because of their innovation over there.
While I am on the topic of energy—and here I should declare my interest in various forms of fossil fuels and other forms of energy—I want to make the point that resilience in the face of weather means keeping the lights on when the wind blows too strongly. That is a pretty obvious point, which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made. But it also means keeping the lights on when the wind does not blow at all—and that, of course, is a risk we are running by trying to rely too much on windmills for electricity. That is the very opposite of resilience, and puts us at the mercy of the weather as we were in the Middle Ages.
By the way, it is weather, not climate, that we are dealing with this winter. There is no need to take my word for that; a paper published this week by 17 international scientists from five different countries in the Hydrological Sciences Journal, entitled “Flood risk and climate change: global and regional perspectives”, says:
“It has not been possible to attribute rain-generated peak streamflow trends to anthropogenic climate change over the past several decades … Blaming climate change for flood losses makes flood losses a global issue that appears to be out of the control of regional or national institutions. The scientific community needs to emphasize that the problem of flood losses is mostly about what we do on or to the landscape and that will be the case for decades to come”.
So what we are doing with drainage and development is far more significant in terms of the effect on flooding.
It is worth pointing out that blaming climate change when there is a weather disaster has become rather an itch for politicians. We saw this with superstorm Sandy in the United States, when Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Christie were able to cover up what was perhaps a lack of preparedness by saying, “Well, it’s all to do with climate change.” I congratulate not only the Prime Minister but my right honourable kinsman-in-law the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for not doing that in connection with the recent floods.
In November 1703, 400 people died in a bad storm that flooded the Somerset Levels. That week, 700 ships were smashed in the Pool of London, 1,500 sailors died when 13 men-of-war went down, the lead was torn off the roof of Westminster Abbey, and the Bishop of Bath and Wells was killed in his bed by a falling chimney. That is less resilient. We can survive storms much better these days because of the adaptations we have made and the sustainable resilience we have added to our society. Globally, someone’s probability of dying as a result of a drought, a flood or a storm is 98% lower than it was in the 1920s. That is not because weather has got less dangerous; it is because globally, people have better transport, better food, better accommodation and better services generally.
While I am on that topic, both here and globally we use about 65% less land to produce as much food as we did 50 years ago, so let us not forget that fossil fuels have made this possible. Without fossil fuels, crop-land would have to increase from about 12% to about 30% of the planet and land transformation—that is to say, the cutting down of forests to provide grazing land and so on—from 43% to 61%. It is fertilisers, pesticides and tractors that have made it possible to keep the resilient wild ecosystems that we so love.
I was at a meeting yesterday where the problems of crop protection were discussed. The wet summer of 2012 was much talked about, where an explosion of fungi and slugs devastated much of the wheat and rape crops—I once again declare an interest as the owner of a ruined harvest in that summer. The chemicals that farmers use to fight these pests and other forms of invasions are getting less and less effective. Resistance is growing rapidly. There is nothing particularly surprising about that; it has happened ever since we developed crop protection systems and is a perennial problem not only in conventional farming but in organic farming. However, today the pipeline of new products is drying up, which was the concern of the speaker yesterday. Innovation in crop protection is failing, and that is making us less resilient. We will face another wet summer at some point when fungicides will not work well enough and the crop will be badly damaged.
Why is this happening? One of the big reasons is because innovators have their hands tied behind their back. The European Commission is causing the withdrawal of about 25% of the currently available active agrochemicals, largely through using really rather feeble excuses about the hazards that those chemicals have. This is causing farmers to go back to older and less effective agrochemicals, and to lose more crop. At the same time safer, more effective and more organic alternatives, such as genetic modification, are being deliberately and directly prevented. I am sorry to sound so uncharacteristically pessimistic. Normally, I am an optimist but I am encouraged because the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, tells me that she will be optimistic today, so I will leave that to her.
The precautionary principle is behind a lot of these problems because, as presently interpreted, particularly in Brussels and Whitehall, it counts the risks of innovation but not the risks of not innovating. Funnily enough, this point was made in the previous debate by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. He said that not taking a risk is also a risk, which was kind of Rumsfeldian in its pithiness. So globally, we must embrace change in this country if we are to be resilient. The least resilient and most dangerous thing we can do is to stop innovating and leave it to others. The world is a dynamic place: as the philosopher Heraclitus said, you cannot step in the same river twice as nothing endures but change. That is true even if the river comes through your front door. Can my noble friend the Minister please stress that, wherever possible, future resilience depends crucially on innovation?
My Lords, this is turning out to be an extremely wide-ranging debate, as some of us thought it might be. I started by pitying the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on the range of issues that he would have to address in his reply, but I am beginning to realise that he may be able to pick and choose to such an extent that he can stick to whatever brief he was provided with at the outset. The debate is so wide-ranging that I should probably declare a number of interests: my co-chairmanship of the All-Party Group on Policing and my role in the All-Party Group on Homeland Security; my chairmanship of the National Trading Standards Board; and my chairmanship of the advisory board on the City Security and Resilience Networks.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his barnstorming introduction to this debate, highlighting the sheer range of issues where our resilience is under question and for which the Government must either have some responsibility or be taking some responsibility. This debate is about the fundamental duty of the nation state to its citizens: to protect their security and secure their well-being.
I was also grateful to my noble friend Lord Rooker for picking up an issue that I raised in the House yesterday about the Thames barrier. When it was first opened 30 years ago, the barrier was raised twice in its first four years. In the latest four years, it has been raised 24 times, which is 12 times the frequency and far more than ever originally envisaged. Yet the Government are happy to agree to reschedule its replacement from 2035 to 2070. I am sure that your Lordships will be reassured that the Front Bench opposite has this matter in hand. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, will himself visit to see that the Thames barrier is in fact resilient until 2070. We are all reassured by that news and look forward to him reporting back as to what state he finds the Thames barrier in when he gets there. However, resilience has to be an essential component of the state’s duty to its citizens. How well can society cope with and recover from adverse events? A breach of the Thames barrier would be a pretty adverse, if not catastrophic, event.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. One of our tasks on that committee is to consider the extent to which the national security strategy addresses all of the issues that it should, and whether the Government have in place appropriate responses to threats to the nation’s security and well-being. Much of this inevitably relates to our international standing. The extent to which the United Kingdom can deal effectively with economic changes is a potential consequence of that international standing and, highly contentious though it may be, the relationship of this country with Europe is of critical importance. Our Government’s willingness to give up their ability to influence events and policies across Europe by their constant hostility to all things European, their willingness to alienate our European partners and their happiness to foster uncertainty about our future relationship with the European Union is inevitably damaging to our national interest. I am sure that the Minister will want to defend the Government’s position on all those matters.
What is not clear is whether the Government have engaged in any serious consideration of the consequences of the endless concessions being made to the Eurosceptic tail of the Conservative wing of this coalition. Later this afternoon, your Lordships will debate the implications of the ill thought through opt-out of the EU police and criminal justice measures. Even though there is clear evidence that these measures are necessary to enable our police to tackle cross-border crime and protect our citizens, Eurosceptics are in practice undermining the security of the nation which they claim to be protecting.
This is part of a pattern: a blindness to national security and national resilience, and a worrying insouciance in all sorts of areas. For example, there is increasing foreign ownership of essential parts of our critical national infrastructure. Indeed, there is no evidence of any serious debate about what should or should not be red-lined. What is the level of our dependence on foreign powers in respect of our ports, our airports, our water, our telecoms or our energy? Do the Government care about any of those? What would they be prepared to see under foreign ownership, or is there something somewhere which the Government are not prepared to see sold to foreign Governments or foreign companies?
Let us talk about energy. Is our energy infrastructure sufficiently resilient against, for example, an electromagnetic pulse, whether delivered as a result of a solar flare or a deliberate attack? An intentional attack launched using a Scud missile from a small ship offshore, which could then be scuttled to make attribution difficult, and with that missile detonating a small nuclear device 25 miles above our land, would trigger an electromagnetic pulse over an area with a 100-mile radius. This would have the effect, irrespective of any other consequences, of disabling electronic equipment and destroying the cores of generators and transformers in the electricity grid.
Exceptional solar activity can produce similar effects. In March 1989, the Quebec hydropower network was disrupted by solar flares, causing a voltage collapse, a failure of transmission lines and a nine-hour blackout. That same solar storm led to a transformer failure in New Jersey and 200 less severe incidents across the United States. Effects like that happen on average every seven years, in line with sunspot activity, with much larger impacts resulting from more occasional massive solar storms such as those in 1859 or 1921. Arguably, if we do the maths, one is due. Where is the planning to combat this and to protect our electricity grid against those sorts of electromagnetic pulse interventions?
Is our energy infrastructure sufficiently resilient against a cyberattack? The Wall Street Journal recently reported senior US intelligence concerns about both Russian and Chinese attempts to map and put in place arrangements to control the US electricity grid. The Chinese, apparently operating from what is described as,
“a rather unimposing building in Shanghai”,
have been equipped to do just that. The former Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, has said that a cyberattack on the US power network is,
“a matter of when and not if”.
What are the Government doing to protect the control systems of our energy supply and other utilities against attack or disruption?
More generally, where is our Government’s response to safeguard the country’s longer-term energy supplies, for example in response to Russian moves over oil pipelines and the increasing fragility of the Middle East? Closer to home, how concerned are we, or should we be, about foreign ownership of energy infrastructure in this country or about foreign powers controlling nuclear waste on UK soil?
This vulnerability on energy is a reminder that, only a few years ago, MI5 was warning that Britain was only four meals away from anarchy. This may be why, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, reported from today’s Daily Telegraph, investment in water cannon is seen as so urgent. That is how quickly MI5 assessed that Britain could be reduced to large-scale disorder, including looting and rioting, in the event of serious disruption to the critical national infrastructure and, in particular, the food distribution network. We had widespread rioting and looting only a couple of years ago, of course, without disruption of the food supply network. These are matters that should be addressed properly by Government. I am not sure that the solution is water cannon, although we will have an opportunity to debate that in this Chamber in a week or two.
More fundamentally—this relates to the remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley—how secure is Britain’s food supply? Other countries are buying up farmland around the world to safeguard their food supplies. Have our Government considered the consequences of this? Are we considering the same? If not, what is being done to safeguard our position and the security of our food supplies?
Are we ready for other forms of threat to the food supply, such as volcanic eruptions with severe effusions of poisonous gases? Have the Government considered the implications for food security of something like the 1783 Laki eruption in Iceland that pumped 14 cubic kilometres—think of the scale of that—of basalt lava and vast clouds of hydrofluoric acid and sulphur dioxide into the air, leading to a drop in global temperatures, crop failures in Europe, droughts in India and the deaths of 6 million people? The 2010 eruption that disrupted flights for six days was as nothing as compared to that. So what contingency plans are in place for a major volcanic eruption with that degree of impact on our food supplies, air travel and everything else?
And are we doing enough to protect food quality? We had the horsemeat scandal, which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to. That was not, on that occasion, a major risk to public health, but it was a wake-up call for concerns about the food supply chain and the need for adequate monitoring. Yet local authority trading standards have already faced a 20% reduction, with much larger cuts in the pipeline in many parts of the country. Where is concern about protecting the interests of the citizen there?
Of course, all local authority services have been cut and much of that has a consequence on society and its resilience. Moving from food to the other end of the digestive cycle, if I may, one in seven public toilets have closed in the past three years as a result of cuts in government grants. In some large cities, such as Liverpool, there are no public facilities at all. The consequences for the elderly, in particular, are severe. Many of them may choose to stay at home rather than risk being caught short. It is hardly a vision of a resilient society if old people feel that they cannot go out because of the cutbacks imposed by this Government.
Regulatory and other services have been cut. Regulatory services have been cut as part of a drive to reduce the burdens on business. Is this really protecting the citizen?
What about the police service? Morale is at an all-time low, police numbers have been cut around the country and neighbourhood policing is disappearing. Ministers are contributing almost gleefully in a collapse in public trust. Why, for example, were Government Ministers so silent following the inquest verdict into the shooting of Mark Duggan? Where were the Home Office Ministers on radio and television saying that the verdict of a jury who had heard months of evidence in that case should be respected and that the police sometimes have to make difficult decisions—that may, with the wonderful benefit of hindsight, turn out to be wrong—to protect the lives of bystanders? Is it really in the public interest to run down our police leaders and our police service, as this Government have done? Where is the resilience in that? Our police will be the first responders when things go wrong and we need them to maintain public order, to intervene to save lives and to protect the public.
Is this not a Government who have forgotten what being a Government is supposed to be about? A Government should protect its citizens and put the resilience of our society first. That is what is missing. There is no coherence in what the Government are doing. There is no overall strategy as far as many of these issues are concerned.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for securing this debate and for his wide-ranging introduction, which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said, suggests that we can talk about almost anything. Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps the fact that we can talk about a very wide range of issues this afternoon will challenge the way in which we all tend to think in silos and fail to link up our thinking on a range of issues. Perhaps we need to return to the age of the polymath. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, has the equipment to enable him to become one of those renewed polymaths in our society.
I return to the subject of floods. On Sunday I was standing above the damaged sea wall at Whitley Bay, watching the high tide submerging it again and reflecting on the costs that that would mean for the borough of North Tyneside. That reminded me of the sheer power of water. It is no accident that the Psalms, from which we choose our prayers here, emphasise that power when they want to describe nature’s devastation and the need to combat it, for example:
“The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly”,
or, from Psalm 46, that I used today:
“Though the waters thereof rage and swell”.
Society has always recognised the need to combat the destruction caused by water, and to do so coherently.
This winter, we have expressed our concern for those who have suffered, particularly in the southern river basins—the Thames, the Brue in Somerset and the Severn, for example. In the autumn we reeled from the effects of the east coast floods. In west Yorkshire, we know the power of Pennine streams, bringing havoc to Hebden Bridge, Sowerby Bridge and other places well known to the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, yesterday spoke of the response to the latest flooding and gave details of the way in which the authorities are responding. That was welcome.
Yet I do not yet sense a national and coherent policy to respond to natural calamities. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, pointed to the way in which we have not got our agricultural policy working with our policy on calamities over issues such as planting trees and preserving green areas. We tend to go for a piecemeal approach and to patch up, rather than establish national criteria to respond to future challenges, wherever they may occur. In doing so, we often set one part of our country against another—“Why are they being helped when we are not?”.
These issues need to be set in the context of climate change, despite the Trappist vow of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, over this subject. Our response to climate change needs to be linked with our practical dealing with calamity. I listened hard to and respect what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said about the distinction between weather and climate. He is right; when we naively start to blame climate change for particular problems in the weather, that is clearly much too simplistic. However, given the way in which we are thinking this afternoon by bringing together our thoughts on a wide range of issues, the link between weather and climate change needs to be explored a good deal more than it has been so far. Scientists are working on that. They do not seem yet to have reached a point where they can make specific links, but that work nevertheless needs to continue. The climate change initiatives seem to have flagged over the past two or three years. Unless we respond to the need to reduce our and the world’s carbon footprint, we shall continue to place sticking plasters where damage is caused.
Therefore, the Government need to make it clear that their climate change emphases are a response both to the practical problems that we face and to the problems that the world is going to face over the next century and beyond. We need in particular adequate successors to the millennium goals, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to those goals. However, I wish that the climate change proposals were more strongly emphasised by the Government and linked in to our dealing with flooding and tidal surges, now and in the future. They need to be part of a single strategy that also includes green energy, rural-proofing, transport issues—we have considered those a little in this debate—as well as issues involving the food chain, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, referred in the previous debate, and which are crucial to our future as a nation and to the whole world.
We need this vision for the sake of our children and their children. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, raised the question of whether there were going to be enough school places for our grandchildren over the coming years. I can offer him the support of the Church of England, its dioceses and their education department, which are providing an increase in the number of primary school places, working along with local authorities and academies to grow the size of primary schools and, where necessary, opening new schools that are fully equipped with the technological equipment that children need. It is our children and grandchildren who will suffer if we do not take action.
We have become almost immune to Bangladeshi floods, the spread of the Sahara and the Philippines tornado. They disappeared from our screens within a week or so. The generosity of the people of this country is immense when they are asked to respond to need. We need to channel that generosity much more effectively into a coherent, long-term strategy that includes climate issues and their effect on our future. My basic question to the Government is: what plans do they have to explain the importance of tackling climate change as a response both to current tragedies and the future welfare of our country and our world?
This is my final contribution to your Lordships’ deliberations because I retire next week. I just wanted to say thank you for the help and colleagueship that I have received, both from those who believe that there should be Bishops in this House and those who do not. It has been a privilege to work with noble Lords and to benefit from the immense experience and expertise of this House, in both the careful examination of legislation and the high quality and variety of debates such as this. I wish the House well in all its future work.
My Lords, I am honoured and delighted to follow the right reverend Prelate and we all wish him every happiness in his retirement, because he has made a major contribution in his service to this House. We wish him well.
Having spent almost 16 years in the other place, I am nevertheless wary about importing the systems, practices and mechanisms of the House of Commons into your Lordships’ House. However, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Rooker on his ingenuity in securing this debate because, as I listened to the many and varied contributions, it reminded me of a good, old-fashioned House of Commons end-of-term adjournment debate. We should be grateful to my noble friend for securing such a debate which would be no bad thing to have from time to time.
The Government must be aware of the remarkable challenges that the voluntary sector has faced in recent years. Its endurance and commitment towards public service, in the face of economic pressures and rising need, has proven unshakeable. The voluntary sector has faced the economic challenge of increasing costs combined, like all public services, with an acute pressure on funding. Simultaneously, these same challenges have led to an increasing need for the services provided by charities. Charities are reporting increasing demand and severity of circumstances. This is concurrent with an unprecedented threat to their ability to respond.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations described 2012 as its “annus horribilis”, and said that in that year voluntary organisations faced a,
“triple whammy of increased demands, rising costs and an unprecedented fall”,
in income. Over the course of this Parliament, this Government are planning to cut more than £5 billion in funding to charities. More than two-thirds of all spending cuts will fall on the 25% most deprived areas of our country. It is in these same communities that the country’s charities are working to maintain civil society and increasingly providing a backstop and safety net to the welfare system.
In the face of this triple whammy, the response of charities has been remarkable. In order to meet changing needs, many charities have diversified and begun operating in new and creative ways. A prime example is Caritas Anchor House, a residential and skills training centre working with homeless people, not far from here in the East End of London. During the past few years demand for its help has increased, while partner organisations have seen major reductions in their funding. Nevertheless, in the last quarter of 2013 alone it helped 34 people into employment and 17 residents into independent living.
Like many charities, it has increasingly partnered with the public sector. Anchor House has set up a complex needs team, working in partnership with local health services to support people’s well-being. Throughout the United Kingdom such partnering is enabling charities to signpost vulnerable people towards assistance, and help them to navigate their way through the system to access the help which they are owed and desperately need.
In recent years the voluntary sector in the United Kingdom has witnessed not only increased demand for help, but the severity of cases has also increased. One of the greatest tragedies of recent years has been the resurgence of food banks in 21st-century Britain. My successor as MP for Islwyn, Chris Evans, recently told me that when he visited a food bank in the constituency, he could not get in because of the large crowd outside. In the past 12 months alone the Trussell Trust experienced a 170% increase in the number of those turning to it for help. This is on the back of equally dramatic increases in the preceding years.
It is reported that 43% of all those referred to food banks have been sent there because of benefit stoppages, and a further 30% are sent there because of benefit delays. Charities have been forced to respond to this horrific new challenge, which is in large measure a consequence of this Government’s callous treatment of those who rely on the welfare system. These are poor people, whom some Ministers and some in the media portray as liars, cheats and scroungers. Charities have been required to become a safety net for this Government’s actions. In England and Wales jobcentres are now routinely referring people to charity-run food banks.
The response of charities, donors, and volunteers to this intolerable crisis has been inspirational. Caritas Diocese of Salford is now providing good quality, healthy lunches to 200 people every day. It is also working to address the causes that have forced people to rely on them for the bare necessity of a good meal. We in this House have perhaps already enjoyed a good meal today, or certainly will before the end of the day. We take it for granted.
Caritas Salford has become a beacon for sanction support, helping those who lose their benefits or have them delayed. This involves providing advice and accompanying people to meetings with jobcentre officials. Like so many charities, Caritas Diocese of Salford is directly addressing the challenges which have forced people to rely on it for food.
The resilience of British charities has been severely tested in recent years. In 2010-11, 2,000 charities in England had their funding cut or withdrawn altogether. We should not forget that the two poorest and most disadvantaged groups in Britain are at the extreme ends of the age spectrum: the elderly and the young. Charities caring for and supporting children and young people were particularly severely affected. These charities were already doing incredible work with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our society. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom voluntary sector has continued to respond compassionately to need wherever it has encountered it.
In recent years there has been a marked increase in the severity and amount of help that charities have been asked to provide. The challenge of reduced resources and increased demand has been met with care and an acute concern to address the causes of distress. I believe that all of us in this House know of the resilience of the voluntary sector in meeting the needs of vulnerable people in incredibly challenging times. I am sure that all noble Lords in this debate want to send one simple message to the Government: future funding to charities should not be regarded as a soft target for spending cuts. The voluntary sector has been resilient in compassionately meeting the needs of the UK’s most vulnerable citizens, in the face of tough economic times and severe pressure on public services.
The voluntary sector has always been instrumental in providing low-level services to vulnerable people which the public sector cannot provide. One example is the voluntary sector’s help for people with autism. Tragically, 82% of adults with autism report that they have not spoken to anyone outside their household for days, and 42% for weeks. These people often struggle to receive all the help and support they need from social services. Vital low-level services, such as befriending or social skills training, are often provided by the voluntary sector, and this is of great benefit.
In my experience, which includes 20 years as a councillor and 16 years in the Commons as well as now being in your Lordships’ House, no matter how good Governments are or local government becomes at providing a range of services to our people, without the voluntary sector the quality of life of millions of our fellow citizens would not be what it is today. We owe the voluntary sector a great debt, and it is time to pay up.
My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Rooker on enabling such a broad debate to take place on this most interesting of topics. I also extend my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds for his contribution. I am sad that it is his final contribution, but I am sure that everyone will congratulate him on making such an important contribution to this debate. As was alluded to by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, today I will adopt a fairly upbeat approach to this topic. There is much that the UK can feel very happy and proud about in relation to its resilience in adapting to the changes that are coming.
We have a predominantly knowledge and service-based economy. This means that we are at the cutting edge of new ideas and can adapt quickly to changing circumstances. As a number of noble Lords have mentioned, the pace of that change appears to be quickening, and that can make our ability to plan incredibly difficult. However, given some of the assets that we have and the nature of our economy, I think that we are well placed to be able to do that. It is a diverse economy.
Much concern is expressed in the media and elsewhere about our potential overreliance on financial services and the financial sector. However, official statistics show that the contribution to the economy of that sector, in terms of its gross value added, is in the range of 5% to 10%. It employs only 4% of the workforce and contributes about 6% to 7% of tax receipts. I am not saying that that is not a big contribution—it is—but clearly upwards of 90% of our economic output is generated by a diverse range of other sectors. The service sector, as I mentioned, dominates, with professional, scientific and technical services accounting for the largest part—almost 13%—of the non-financial sector GVA. Other important sectors include entertainment and media, which make a strong and growing contribution to the economy, as do the green technologies and services. These sectors have been able to show growth when other sectors of the economy have been in decline.
One fundamental reason for this resilience and strength in our economy is our academic record and our academic institutions. Given the size of our country, it is quite astounding that the UK is home to four of the top 20 universities in the world and that 15 are in the top 100. This gives us a fantastic foundation on which to build, educating not just our own young people but people around the world. We are able to disseminate into the wider world the principles and ideas that we hold dear using our academic institutions, which themselves are now opening campuses in other parts of the world. Based on that sound academic and research base, we also now have a globally competitive lead in key sectors such as biopharmaceuticals, aerospace and the digital economy.
We also have—the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, spoke very eloquently about this—a very clear history of innovation. This is an essential component of a modern economy. We do not need to talk about the Industrial Revolution but I mention briefly a recent innovation in the invention of graphene, which is being dubbed the world’s most important new material. It was discovered by two Russian scientists at Manchester University in 2004. The excitement around this material is very great. However, the question remains: will the UK be able to go from research and the fundamental principles of discovery into commercialisation and help to build a business around it? It is clear that graphene can be put to use in a number of different ways—from condoms to super-efficient solar power cells. Therefore, there is much to be optimistic about.
However, there are of course challenges—not least challenges to the public purse, on which my noble friend Lord Rooker cleverly instigated a debate within the topic of his speech. Perhaps primary among those are the demographic changes that we will experience. Average life expectancy is growing. We have reduced infant mortality, and medical advances and higher living standards now mean that we are living longer, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, alluded to. These are good things that we should celebrate. They are a mark of how much we have improved our lot in a relatively short period. We have seen diseases eradicated, and a number of medical interventions and innovations have helped to prolong life.
However, a top-heavy demographic will create pressures on public spending, increase our pension liability and potentially lead to higher care and health costs, with the added problem of fewer working-age people paying into the pot in taxes. Of course, immigration can help to address this, and a number of noble Lords have alluded to the fact that interconnectedness can help to strengthen us and make us more resilient. Far from bowing to the scepticism and scaremongering about immigration, we must celebrate and praise the resilience that it has given our economy.
Healthcare is going to be a crucial issue. I think we will find that health and social care are incredibly difficult topics. Of course, one method of helping to alleviate the burden on the public purse is to spend more on prevention. More needs to be done in looking at some of the commonplace diseases that perhaps do not grab the headlines as much, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. People with these chronic illnesses and diseases can be helped through better education and early intervention. A refocusing on prevention in our national healthcare system would be money well spent.
I should also like to mention the need to clean our air. It seems to me crazy that in the 21st century we still have a problem with air quality. Poor air quality contributes to chronic diseases such as asthma and other respiratory diseases, and it should be a priority for any modern economy to eradicate it. The technology now exists to make our streets and our air far cleaner. There is no excuse for some parts of London currently having triple the legal limits of NOx pollution.
The other great challenge for government—I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Harris for describing it—is the need to keep a balance in our economy and not to allow inequality. We cannot have an innovation and growth economy that represents only the few and not the many. The whole of our population must be brought forward together. Inequality is a real problem but the answer, as my noble friend Lord Rooker said, is not water cannons. There must be a much more sophisticated response than that. We must address the fact that poverty is now found among those in work as well as those out of work. I believe that the statistics show that poverty levels are now higher among those in employment than those not in employment.
Looking slightly more closely at how we raise finance for public spending, there are a few trends which I think this Government and all Governments need to think about. One, in particular, is that we rely quite heavily on income based on fossil fuel taxation. Fuel levies make up 5% of the revenue but the consumption of fuels is falling as vehicles become more efficient, and North Sea revenues are also falling as production declines. The question is: what will replace that as a source of income? The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, mentioned shale gas, the impact that it has had in the US and how it has created a challenge for Europe as a whole. I do not dispute that but it is not yet clear that shale gas can deliver the same kind of revolution here as the US has experienced or on what scale. There is also a great need to ensure that we have robust regulation to protect water resources and drinking water when we eventually exploit it.
I would prefer a balanced approach: shale gas if it can be extracted safely and affordably and carbon capture and storage, a technology which could add value to and reinvestment in the North Sea infrastructure, extending the economic lifetime of that investment and enabling us to return to using our own coal-based assets. It would definitely help energy resilience if a higher proportion of our energy came from home production rather than imported fuels. CCS is underexploited and given too low a priority by this Government. I wish we could see as much enthusiasm about CCS as we do about shale gas from our Ministers and leaders. Canada is currently leading the world on this. We had an opportunity to be world leaders and we must catch up.
I am feeling in an optimistic mood: we are currently experiencing an economic recovery and that is certainly welcome. However, it has to be a sustainable recovery: one based merely on increased consumption or housing price rises will not be sustainable in the long run and we cannot risk a repeat of the boom-and-bust cycle that led to this recession in the first place.
The answer lies in innovation at every level. As noble Lords have alluded to, there are now technologies which are revolutionising everything. From education to transport to you name it, a coming technology will change how we do things currently. For example, smart homes: there are now devices that you can put on your mobile phone which communicate with your house so that when you are approaching your home it tells the central heating to switch on and get it nice and warm ready for your arrival. You do not need to do anything: it is simply based on reading where you are using your mobile phone. With LED lighting, huge efficiencies over the current lighting systems are possible. Every local authority in the country should be investing in it, not only to reduce their electricity bills but to improve the quality of services that they offer. Smart LED lighting can adjust to the levels needed automatically and can spread the provision of lighting to help increase security. A great deal of new technology is coming through which will help to improve our lives.
A number of noble Lords have alluded to the fact that we must have a long-term plan if we are going to do this efficiently and well. We cannot allow the short-term thinking which is rife in the private sector, governed as it is by the quarterly cycle of reporting and the desire to meet shareholder demands: we need a longer-term view.
We must also have a longer-term view than the election cycle, where there is always a temptation to worry about the immediate priority of winning an election at the expense of longer-term thinking. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, pointed out that in the desire to cut spending in ways that will not be noticed, investment in the future and in capital is often one of the first things to go. That is regrettable.
That brings me on to perhaps the most negative part of my contribution today—that is, the Government’s plans on flooding defence. It is clear that there has been a little confusion, to be generous, about how much money is going in. It is clear that less government money is going in than has previously been the case and it appears that government plans for the future are a little short-sighted. I am informed that the Government’s Flood Re proposals do not include the likely increased need for flood defence as a result of climate change. We can debate climate change and where we are at the moment, but it is clear that reduced ice in the Arctic means more evaporation, more precipitation and sea-level rise. Many factors will contribute to flooding for which we need to plan; we cannot simply wish them away.
I am concerned about the Flood Re proposals. I have received information today that there are large exemptions to the kinds of property that can have access to this insurance. A group of organisations, including the British Property Federation and the Council of Mortgage Lenders, have said that millions of homes could be left without access to insurance unless that policy is changed.
I am told that I have one minute left and I will end, as I said, on a positive note. The pace of change is quite extraordinary. I am sure that I am not the first person to have said that and that future generations will say it too. It is a matter of perception. With the benefit of hindsight, it always seems as if things used to be more clear and certain. We must resist the temptation to feel that there are many new risks or risks that are unique to our time. It is human nature to perceive, be aware of and try to plan for risk. It is what has made us a successful species. I shall end with a quote from Sir Winston Churchill:
“The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope”.
That is why I am feeling cheerful today. The UK has great assets and a great ability to respond to these challenges, and I am sure that it will do so.
My Lords, some debates are more difficult to sum up than others, but this one is simply impossible. Let me start by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds for everything he has done as a Member of this House and for the many contributions he has made. I hope that he will not be losing touch with his diocese entirely, which I know well, having walked across substantial parts of it, and having canvassed in such different areas as the Gipton and Harehills estates in Leeds and the Duchy estate in Harrogate—to take two extreme ends of the social spectrum. Only those who have walked over the Yorkshire Dales know quite how extraordinary are the boundaries between the different dioceses of West and North Yorkshire: Bradford, Wakefield, Leeds and Ripon. I know that the retirement of the right reverend Prelate is partly an adjustment of the boundaries of those dioceses, which will relate more to the 21st century than to the early 20th century when they were drawn up.
Let me start by talking about the Government’s response to issues of resilience. I stress that it is not just about this Government’s response because we have inherited a lot from our predecessors. I hope that we have improved upon it, although as has been said, we are all conscious that Governments tend to think about the period between now and the next election. However, good government apparatus needs always to think about the long term. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat of the Cabinet Office, with the horizon-scanning that various members of the Cabinet Office undertake, always tries to look 15, 20 and 30 years ahead. That did not start with this Government; it is something that any Government should be doing.
When this Government came into office, I was struck by the list in the national security strategy—a document produced mainly by the Ministry of Defence—of what were thought to be the major threats to Britain. What was most striking was how few of the threats identified were primarily military. The first was international terrorism affecting the UK, with hostile attacks against UK cyberspace listed as the second of the really serious threats. It cited a major accident or natural hazard such as flooding affecting three or more regions or an influenza pandemic as the third threat, and an international crisis between other states which might draw in the UK and its allies, as well as non-state actors, as the fourth. Under tier 2 were listed the risk of major instability, insurgency or civil war overseas that might create a surge of terrorists or asylum seekers, a significant increase in the level of organised crime affecting the UK, and severe disruption to information received, transmitted or collected by satellite either as the result of deliberate attack by another state or through the impact of space weather. So the Government do try to think ahead, but the idea that any Government could ever be entirely coherent in their response to every possible contingency is asking for the moon, and possibly even for the sun as well. As I struggle to come to terms with the many different things that the Cabinet Office does, and which I find I am responsible for reporting on to this House, I have to say that this Government are doing a fairly good job.
On two occasions I have been briefed on the question of cyberdefences and the threat of cyberattack. I told my wife that when she visits Beijing in a few weeks, she is certainly not taking any phone other than one she might buy to go there and come away with. Again, the Government are well prepared for many of the risks that we face in this new world: the government structure is in place.
Of course, the Cabinet Office works in collaboration with the DCLG, Defra, DECC and a number of other departments, and in co-operation with local government because many local issues, particularly flooding or other weather events, are dealt with much better in the first instance by local responders at local level.
Incidentally, I am struck that no one has mentioned national or global population increase as a long-term source of insecurity. It evidently is a matter of concern to our population. It is certainly a source of potential problems if there is climate change in other parts of the world or, perhaps, due to the declining effectiveness of antibiotics in controlling disease, which is a problem with which the Government are already actively engaged.
I will make what is perhaps the party point that very few of these threats—indeed, almost none of them—can be dealt with by national action alone. National security requires international co-operation, both European and global. The defence of national sovereignty, about which some newspapers in particular seem to go on at great length, does not fit in well with protection against external, regional and global threats.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked whether or not foreign ownership of key national assets is itself a potential source of national insecurity or threat. That is a very large question, which perhaps he would like to promote an entire debate on. All I will say is that it is very odd that the anti-European right does not focus on that issue when it is talking about the defence of national sovereignty.
The right reverend Prelate asked about UK policy on climate change. Again, UK policy on climate change has to contribute to European and global policy on climate change. We are engaged in an active negotiation within the European Union about how we and the other 27 member states adjust to climate change. The discovery of shale gas in the United States has not made that any easier because the higher price of energy in Europe compared to the United States is clearly a very major issue here.
I say in passing to the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, who doubts that we should depend so much on renewable energy from wind, if you walk around Yorkshire, you are always conscious that there is an awful lot of unused hydropower available. I have just had to keep my head very low in an argument within Saltaire village about whether or not you could put in an Archimedean screw on our weir, which we are now doing, which will provide a small amount of local hydropower. There are about 100 other weirs on the River Aire and if one were to harness all those weirs that we used to use in the 18th and 19th centuries for power in Yorkshire, we would provide a small additional contribution to renewable energy from land-based fresh water, which incidentally would be most effective at the point where wind power was likely to be least effective.
While I am on the international theme, I will quote the Peer Review Report from the European Commission, OECD and UNISDR on the United Kingdom’s resilience:
“Since the Civil Contingencies Act (CCA) was enacted in 2004, the UK has continued to increase the resilience of society to disasters. Sophisticated mechanisms have been put in place to coordinate the actions of various levels of government and its agencies at national and local levels … In many respects, the UK resilience approach shows state-of-the-art innovations, including: large use of science to support policy … attention to business-continuity issues and full partnerships with the private sector … flexible institutional mechanisms and partnerships focused on delivery through voluntary approaches … professional and dedicated co-workers in the field of DRR”—
disaster risk reduction—
“throughout the country … national commitment to continue improving policy-making and pushing further implementation”.
Again, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that of course none of that started in 2010 but we are continuing to pay active attention to this extremely important issue.
It is not only the Government; there is a role for Parliament and for society as a whole in all of this. We talk about government resilience but of course there is also economic resilience and social resilience. There is a role for Parliament in promoting public awareness of challenges to resilience and of the need for the public as well as government nationally and locally to play a part in response. I suggest that Parliament could do more, through debates and committee activities, to scrutinise government on these long-term threats.
The noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Brooke, talked about local communities, local government and the involvement of the public and charities. The revival of local government is one of the things that this Government have begun to make some progress on, although I have to say that we have been frustratingly slow in doing it. Clearly the city deals and getting people back into local engagement are part of the way in which we have to improve social and political resilience. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, on the extent to which charities should be as dependent on government funding as many became in the 13 years of the Labour Government. I have occasionally been shocked in Yorkshire by just how intensely overdependent some charities are on government funding. It is an unnatural dependence. That is a question that we will need to discuss with the charity sector.
In many ways, civil society more broadly has become too passive in Britain. I am a fan of the big society partly because it says, “Government cannot do everything for you. You have to help to do some of these things yourselves”. I remember the shock that my wife and I had when, during a very heavy snow storm some winters ago, one of the many young people who have stayed in our house in London over the years—because it is too large for us and we are away at the weekends—said, “Why haven’t they cleared the paths?”. We both turned on him and said, “Why haven’t you cleared the paths?”. This is part of the problem that we have across too much of our society. We need to get people back into the sense that they share in citizenship and in their local and national community. I will flag up a number of government programmes which help with that. The national citizenship service scheme pilots, as they still remain, have done a very encouraging amount to show to some young people from the deprived sectors of our society that they can, and would be happy to, help and work with others in building local community initiatives. I have also watched the arrival of the apprenticeship programme and have seen in Leeds and Bradford the extent to which young people who thought they were never going to work, have got themselves back into work and are finding that it is an enormously valued part of their life within the community.
The noble Lord, Lord Maxton, remarked how we have a coherent and cohesive society and have never had a revolution. As he spoke, I thought of what my father told me many times. When he was a sergeant in the Gordon Highlanders in 1919 during the miners’ strike and was sent off with a platoon to guard a Nottinghamshire mine, he was sure that the Sherwood Foresters were probably there guarding a mine in the Scottish lowlands—I think we got pretty close to it in 1919. The question of social cohesion and social resilience is one which we cannot neglect in Britain at present. A topic for another debate would certainly be whether the growth of the extreme inequalities which we see in our society, as well as the increasing ethnic diversity, weakens social resilience.
The ageing population, to which a number of references were made, also raises considerable problems. For example, I would say to the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that it tends to make society more resistant to change and innovation. As we have seen, it also increases the pressure on all Governments to spend more on the old and less on the young.
I am sorry to interrupt, and I know it is a timed debate, but did the noble Lord imply that increasing ethnic diversity would reduce society’s resilience? If so, could he explain the point?
I merely said that it is a risk. It is a risk that we have seen over the past 20 or 30 years. On the whole, we have managed the diversity of British society extremely well, but it is not something—I say this again from my experience in West Yorkshire—that can be entirely ignored. It is one that we all have to be aware of. My noble friend Lady Eaton, a former leader of Bradford council, is actively engaged in Near Neighbours, which works across West Yorkshire in bringing those different communities together. We have to work on these things.
Animal disease was mentioned. Defra and the veterinary agency are dealing with scanning surveillance capability on the threat of animal disease. I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, that a large number of scientists in universities, in government laboratories and in the private sector are working together on this.
The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, and others spoke about spending on flood defences. The noble Baroness was absolutely right: spending overall is going up, which is partly because, under partnership arrangements, private providers are increasing their contribution as the Government have squeezed the rate of their contribution. Those who say that there has been a reduction and those who say that there has been an increase are therefore both right depending on whose figures you take. We are all conscious that flood defences are a highly emotive issue. I would contradict those noble Lords who suggested that the Government are not thinking about the future of peatlands and tree-planting in the uplands. We had a Question on peatlands from my noble friend Lord Greaves the other day. These are matters where the Government, local authorities and water companies are working together.
I am conscious that time is running out. I have mentioned the flood mitigation measures which are already under way; clearly, more needs to be done. I was looking up what an earth bund was this morning— perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, already knows what that is—but experiments are under way to prevent heavy rainwater on saturated land going immediately downstream by holding it in artificially created water meadows. The Government are experimenting as far as they can in all this.
Would the Minister care to comment on my questions about the Flood Re provisions and the number of households which it is feared may not be able to apply for flood insurance under that scheme?
I have some notes on this which I have not had time fully to absorb. Perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness. I am conscious that the Government are engaged in active discussions on that. I know that it is matter of great concern to householders who live on flood plains. I think that about a quarter of the population of Wandsworth lives in houses built on the Thames flood plain. That is part of the reason why we need the Thames barrier. Their houses were built 100 years ago or more. This is not a new problem.
Many other issues were raised in this debate. They included the need for innovation; the advantages of greater globalisation—referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley—and the risks of globalisation in terms of undue energy dependence or undue food dependence. I always think that I am contributing a great deal to Britain’s energy security by the amount of food that we produce on our allotment. We have just finished our last courgettes from last summer and there are still apples in the basement, so we are doing our small bit for British energy security.
Perhaps I may end by saying that government can never anticipate all risks. When the great fire at Buncefield went up some years ago, my wife reminded me of a conversation that we had had with the head of the international energy programme at Chatham House when we both worked there in the mid-1980s. He had said, “I’m not terribly worried about civil nuclear problems; what I’m really worried about is what would happen if one of those oil distribution depots went up”. We had not a clue what he meant by it at the time, and probably very few people even in government were thinking about the potential for that. That was the largest fire in Europe since the Second World War, and a major national emergency that I suspect that we had not entirely prepared for. One of the problems that government faces is how much you insure against risks which would be severe but which are not terribly likely, and how far you insure against smaller risks which are more likely but less severe.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his, as always, wonderful and extremely wide-ranging speech. I look forward to many more interventions from him in the future.
My Lords, I thank everybody who participated in the debate. I will make two points incredibly briefly. First, when the Minister read out the list of things that he looked at when he came into office, I was reminded of the 1931 essay by Churchill that I quoted from, “Fifty Years Hence”. It is almost a modern-day version of that essay. Secondly, I will give him a new risk that I did not raise before, one that comes out of something said by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. I was at the launch last week by the Crop Protection Association—which he mentioned—of a new campaign against illegal pesticides. The association estimates that currently between 7% and 10% of pesticides entering Europe are illegal and that most of them start off in China. We could be more damaged by those because they could poison our land if misused. That is another risk to be going on with that needs to be added to the list. I thank everyone for participating in the debate. It has been exactly as intended—wide-ranging, in the sense that my noble friend Lord Touhig said.