Thursday, 6 February 2014.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, welcome to the Grand Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Health: Neglected Tropical Diseases
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in combating neglected tropical diseases since the London Declaration in 2012; and how that issue will feature in the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals health agenda.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce today’s debate on progress in combating neglected tropical diseases and I draw attention to my non-financial interests in health and development, particularly as a trustee of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Malaria Consortium. I am also delighted that what many would consider an abstruse and minority interest subject has attracted such a large and expert speakers list—and even an equally distinguished audience in the Moses Room—and I look forward to hearing the contributions.
I am also glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Bates, here today as the Minister replying. I welcome him to our world of worms, snails, flukes and flies, the vectors of the group of parasitic and bacterial diseases that are categorised as neglected tropical diseases—NTDs. Of course, these diseases—afflictions such as river blindness, human hookworm and elephantiasis—are not actually part of our world as people who live in rich, developed countries. They are the diseases of the world’s poorest people, predominantly the rural poor. For them, NTDs are far from abstruse or a specialised interest; they are illnesses that affect one in six of the world’s population and blight the development of half a billion of the world’s poorest children.
Although NTDs do not cause as many immediate deaths as AIDS, TB and malaria, they kill, they maim and disfigure and they stunt and disable, causing decades of pain and, often, isolation. These diseases not only have direct effects but also weaken the immune system, cause anaemia, put infected individuals at higher risk of contracting other diseases and impair the ability to resist infection. They increase the risks in pregnancy and childbirth and they can have a negative effect on the efficacy of treatments for diseases such as TB. The link in particular between genital schistosomiasis and HIV infection, particularly in young women, has not been taken seriously enough in the past. Beyond those health effects, NTDs also form a terrible barrier to education and employment. They are not only the diseases of poverty; they are the diseases that cause poverty. Combating NTDs is therefore one of the best routes to cutting the cycle of poverty itself and to the sustainable development that we all seek.
The good news is that, unlike with many diseases, we have many of the tools necessary to combat those afflictions. We know that the combination of mass drug administration and water and sanitation projects, for example, can result in dramatic benefits and reduction in the incidence of disease. With concerted effort, with research into new vaccines, new diagnostics, new insecticides and medicines, with improved mapping and monitoring, with operational research, we could make much more progress. Much of that work is in train in academic institutions, in the voluntary sector and in the countries themselves
The London declaration of 2012, whose second anniversary we mark with this debate, was hugely important, because it brought together funders, both national and philanthropic, pharmaceutical companies that donate the drugs necessary for mass drug administration programmes and endemic countries themselves in an effort to co-ordinate the fight against these diseases. Together with the ongoing support of the World Health Organisation, which has championed this work in recent years, we have seen a significant shift in the global prioritisation of neglected tropical diseases. Their inclusion in the healthy lives goal of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda, published in May last year, was, I believe, a crucial step forward.
I welcome, too, the formation of NTD coalitions, such as the very successful one that we have in the UK, in countries across the world and, particularly importantly, the drawing up of integrated NTD control strategies in endemic countries. The academic and voluntary sector, both of which are so strong in the United Kingdom, have much to offer both in research and in resource. For example, the London Centre for Neglected Tropical Disease Research, which had just been launched when we debated this subject a year ago, works continuously to improve the effectiveness of control measures. We need to know how to do what we do better. Such technical support will be essential for plans such as the recently drawn-up Africa regional NTD strategy if it is to be successful.
As well as technical support, money remains an issue. Even given the relative cheapness—we know that many would argue that treating NTDs was the best bang for your buck that you could get in public health expenditure—and the cost efficiency of NTD control work, given the extensive drug donations, it has been estimated that there is still a £200 million funding gap to be bridged if we are to meet the goals of the London declaration. I am not asking Her Majesty’s Government to meet that gap themselves; they have already been generous and committed in this area. However, I ask the Minister what progress the Government are making in championing investment in NTD work with other key international donor Governments, particularly perhaps France, Germany and Australia.
As we have recently and sadly seen with polio eradication, conflict can threaten to destroy the painstaking work of decades. When countries experience violence and civil wars, health programmes and the benefits that they provide to the poor and the marginalised are threatened. Through the Malaria Consortium, I know of the situation in South Sudan. There, it is working on DfID-supported programmes and bringing long-standing expertise in malaria to bear on programmes to combat neglected tropical diseases. We have discussed in your Lordships’ House before the issue of not working in silos in this area. Members of the charity’s staff had to be evacuated during the recent violence and have only just been able to return. I pay tribute to the courage and commitment of the very many—both local and international—NGO workers throughout the world who continue to operate in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances. On the specifics of South Sudan, I understand that the DfID NTD programme, though not the malaria programme, is on hold because of the perceived continuing dangers. I wonder whether the Minister could give any indication today, or perhaps in writing, of when that programme might be restarted.
I return to the issue of a post-2015 millennium development goal. Combating NTDs punches above its weight in broader health and wider development terms. We need to renew and reinvigorate our commitment to research, prevention and treatment programmes. By integrating existing strategies such as mass drug administration with broader public health programmes such as those on water, sanitation and education, we not only enhance the effectiveness of those strategies but start to build from the bottom up the sort of universal health coverage and health systems needed to underpin development. Therefore, I end by congratulating the Government on the leadership that they, together with the United States, have given so far and I urge them to ensure that NTD control features in the final formulation of the sustainable post-2015 health agenda.
My Lords, it was the passion and expertise of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that brought me into this world. More than 200 million individuals in Africa are infected by schistosomiasis, causing malnutrition, stunting, anaemia and eventually early death through liver disease and bladder cancer. Dr Alan Fenwick and his team at the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative at Imperial College run huge and detailed programmes that reduce all this enormously. I declare a non-financial interest as a trustee. His team and I are concerned first with the humanitarian effects and alleviating suffering. I am there not as a medic but to see that the charitable moneys are used cost effectively—and they certainly are.
In Africa, in 10 countries that receive aid from us, 50 million people lose their ability to work each year to these diseases. Even if they each earn a dollar a day, this amounts to $18 billion a year lost through disability. DfID is currently investing £50 million over five years towards the control of schistosomiasis and intestinal worms. For this amount, we will be heading to eliminate these infections in two of these countries and, for an estimated £50 million more, we could approach elimination in another four of these countries. It will take longer in the larger countries such as Ethiopia and DRC, but I was in Egypt only this weekend, where they have demonstrated that it can be done.
Since the London declaration in January 2012, we have certainly taken several positive steps. Donations from the pharmaceutical industry have increased. GSK and Johnson & Johnson have donated more de-worming medicines, and more than 700 million people every year receive albendazole either for lymphatic filariasis control or worm treatment or both. Merck has increased its donation of praziquantel from an annual 25 million to 250 million tablets in 2016, enough to treat 100 million children every year. But this is not elimination.
The member states of the 2012 World Health Assembly adopted a resolution to try to eliminate schistosomiasis where feasible by 2020. All that is being done will help to reach elimination in some countries but not without technical assistance and supplementary funding. In addition, DfID has doubled its support and between 2011 and 2016 we will assist Governments in the 10 countries to deliver 200 million treatments. Mindful business people have stepped in, such as Luke Ding, who manages his philanthropy through Prism the Gift Fund, where I am a trustee. We administer the giving by individuals such as Luke and by large foundations by helping them to gift significant amounts to charities cost effectively. Luke made a donation last year of £275,000 to assist SCI in general and our programme in Madagascar.
All this is great. We know that we could reach elimination with economic development and better water and sanitation, which could be done by pulling together British and American aid programmes to work synergistically across Africa. With an additional sum of £200 million for 2014 and 2020, we would have the guaranteed funding for the programme for the integrated control of schistosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa, or ICOSA. We could expand coverage and move towards the WHO target of elimination of schistosomiasis in particular and the other NTDs in the poorest rural communities in Africa. That sounds a lot of money, but noble Lords should remember that the successful elimination would save 50 million DALYs—disability annual lost years—which would mean $18 billion a year saved for ever more. Will the Minister meet us and our partners to plan how this might be organised?
My Lords, first I must apologise because I have come to this debate with a finely honed speech of just three minutes to find that I actually have four. I could spend that being rude to people, but I shall promise not to. There will be some extra time at the end that noble Lords might want to share among themselves, if they are a bit worried about the length of their speeches. Anyway, here comes my three minutes.
The London declaration in 2012 on neglected tropical diseases set a target for control and eradicating at least 10 of these devastating diseases by 2020. The commitment was to sustain, expand and extend programmes that ensure the supply of drugs and other interventions to help to eradicate these 10 diseases. International donors such as DfID could address this by explicitly targeting NTD programming at the poorest and most marginalised populations. When the Minister replies, I hope that he can comment on that and on what DfID’s role will be.
In the list of NTDs, Guinea worm disease caught my attention because, in my relative youth, I worked for some years in the rainforests and mountains of Guinea in west Africa. Tropical diseases flourished there, but never once did I come across Guinea worm.
As some noble Lords may know, Guinea worm is a parasitic infection contracted by drinking contaminated water containing water fleas harbouring infective Guinea worm larvae. Inside the human’s abdomen, the larvae mate and female worms mature and grow. They grow as long as three feet or more and, after a year of incubation, the worm creates a lesion in the skin and slowly emerges from the host person’s body. The contamination cycle begins when the victims immerse their limbs in water to ease their agonising pain, stimulating the emerging worm to release larvae into the water and begin the cycle all over again. Guinea worms can be removed by winding them around a small stick and manually extracting them in a slow and painful process which can take several weeks.
Through the intervention of the Carter Center and its partners, cases of Guinea worm have been reduced by more than 99.9% since 1986. In 2013, only approximately 150 cases were reported, mainly in South Sudan. Guinea worm disease is on track to be only the second disease in history to be eradicated after smallpox. Sadly, this is only one success.
However, it is worth comparing to the situation with tuberculosis. As far as I am aware, about 20 years ago TB too was believed to be on the point of eradication. I am not a medical man and I am not sure, but that is what I recall. Somehow that initiative was lost and now TB is the second most deadly disease in the world. It is estimated to have killed more people than any other pandemic in history. It is shocking to find that only one new TB drug has been developed in the past 42 years.
Even more troubling is that a signatory to the London declaration on NTDs appears to have effectively abandoned that commitment. According to a recent edition of the Times, AstraZeneca, the UK’s second largest drug company, has confirmed it will no longer carry out early stage research into NTDs, TB and malaria. It will be focusing instead on making products that attract big profits. It seems to be effectively turning its back on the poor.
The NTDs affect the achievement of almost all millennium development goals. There is unquestionably a case for strengthening NTD control and elimination programmes and for the inclusion of NTDs within the health goal in the MDG framework. Do the Government accept this case? In so doing, they would recognise the plight of more than 1.4 billion desperately poor people blighted by NTDs.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a chancellor of the University of Dundee, which has a drug development unit that focuses on finding treatments for five of the key neglected tropical diseases—human African trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease, visceral leishmaniasis, malaria and tuberculosis—and which has only recently announced a potential drug for the treatment of malaria.
However, today I wish to speak not about drug development at Dundee—fantastic though it is—but, in the few minutes that I have, about why a focus on neglected tropical diseases should be given priority in women’s health and gender equality in the millennium development goals post 2015, alongside HIV/AIDS, nutrition, access to contraception and poverty reduction.
I shall speak specifically about two helminth infections—hookworm infections and schistosomiasis. These are the two key infections affecting women living in poverty in Africa and elsewhere today. Nearly 40 million women of childbearing age and 7 million pregnant women per year are infected, leading to increased maternal, neonatal and infant mortality, not to mention increased morbidity. Further, more than 10 million women suffer from genital schistosomiasis. Apart from causing much pain and distress, this condition also is linked to horizontal transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus and is a possible major factor in the AIDS epidemic. Hence, it is important for the control of HIV/AIDS, particularly in Africa.
It is believed from research carried out that highly vascular and CD4+ cell-enriched patches in the cervix or elsewhere in the female genital tract may provide host entry routes for sexually transmitted HIV, although other mechanisms are plausible. There is an urgent need for expanded studies. If this is shown to be true, it would be a major case, allowing millions of young women who are infected to control HIV/AIDS. Such findings are therefore critical for designing potential intervention strategies of the future.
A recent publication by Hotez and Whitham in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology—I am an honorary fellow of the college—highlights in detail the problems and the solutions. An urgent expansion of mass drug administration, not only to children but to women of childbearing age, for the eradication of hookworm and schistosomiasis is needed. Current programmes hardly reach a third of the children in Africa and less then 10% of young girls, particularly women. Millennium development goals post 2015 should include new policies and advocacy of neglected tropical diseases, including the elimination of helminth infection, which is possible, and better alignment. Control of these infections to HIV/AIDS and malaria control is what is required, hence the need for the inclusion of neglected tropical diseases in the millennium development goals post 2015. I hope the Minister will ensure that the UK will support that.
My Lords, I am interested in this subject as I was born and brought up in east Africa. I have seen how the diseases that we are discussing today affect the lives of people. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for initiating this debate.
I applaud this Government’s continued commitment to international aid. Combating disease is a crucial part of this programme. We are now marking the two-year anniversary of the historic London declaration on neglected tropical diseases. Neglected tropical diseases affect more than a billion people throughout the world. They often affect the poorest people in the hardest-to-reach areas. The combined personal and family suffering also translates into wider economic hardship, trapping communities in a cycle of poverty. Eliminating NTDs is thought to be one of the most cost-effective and comprehensive ways to achieve development goals and eliminate poverty. Therefore, it is important that work to combat NTDs is absorbed into wider-scale initiatives on poverty.
Prevention is also a key principle. Measures such as better health education, greater nutrition and the provision of safe drinking water will help to reduce cases in the first instance. We must celebrate the progress that has been made in a number of ways. We have made political progress. Last May, 32 countries took part in deliberations during which the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on all 17 neglected tropical diseases. This resolution calls for more effective financing and implementation of prevention and eradication programmes. It makes important references to increasing access to treatments. I am proud that the United Kingdom strongly supported this resolution and has pledged to continue playing an important role in this respect.
We have made progress on awareness. Neglected tropical diseases are receiving more coverage than ever before and are firmly on the international agenda. The engagement and generosity of pharmaceutical companies must also be noted. We now have all the treatments required to control and eliminate the seven most common NTDs. These account for over 90% of the global burden.
Although we have made progress, though, we must of course not be complacent. It is still necessary to further increase and maintain this progress if we are to reach our target. The millennium development goals expire in 2015. This provides us with a perfect opportunity to renew and accelerate the focus on eradicating NTDs. In its report last summer, the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda included the reduction of NTDs as part of its recommended goal of ensuring healthy lives.
In my view, the 2020 road map for the elimination of at least 10 diseases by the end of the decade is firmly in sight. It is very ambitious but I believe that it can, and I hope will, be achieved.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Hayman for her assiduous and indefatigable commitment to the elimination of neglected tropical diseases. I should mention that I am a patron emeritus of the Liverpool School for Tropical Medicine, which is one of the partners in the Global Network for neglected tropical diseases and is a leader in NTD research. I am also a patron of a project providing clean water in Turkana and a health project in Ghana.
As recently as 27 January, former Ghanaian President John Kufuor was in London to mark the anniversary of the 2012 declaration. He rightly says:
“There is no silver bullet remedy to helping a country break the cycle of poverty, but investing in the health of its population offers one of the best options for unlocking economic potential”.
Scaling up integrated NTD control and elimination strategies is considered one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce global poverty. Virtually all of the “bottom billion”, the 1.4 billion people around the world who are living on less than $1.25 a day, are afflicted with one or more of the seven most common NTDs: elephantiasis, hookworm, river blindness, roundworm, whipworm, trachoma and snail fever. NTDs disable, debilitate and perpetuate poverty and in worst-case scenarios they can kill. They cause blindness, huge swelling in appendages and limbs, severe malnutrition and anaemia—all brilliantly highlighted, I might add, in the END7 Youtube video featuring Eddie Redmayne and others.
Those afflicted include more than 500 million children. In a randomised controlled trial in Ethiopia, researchers found that consistently treating trachoma halved childhood mortality, while a study in Kenya demonstrated that deworming children leads to a 25% decrease in school absenteeism. Compare the cost of one cup of coffee at Starbucks, which can range from £1.75 to £3.50, to the fact that just 30p—or 50 cents, half a US dollar—per person per year is all that is needed to treat and protect one person against all seven NTDs. This in turn averts malnutrition, improves education outcomes, improves maternal and child health, reduces new cases of HIV and sets the stage for sustainable economic development. In Africa, the entire at-risk population could be treated for £250 million or less annually. Yet efforts to control and eliminate NTDs receive less than 2% of total global health funding, and the elimination of many of the NTDs will not be achieved without significant investment in water and sanitation interventions. Such an approach should surely be central to post-2015 objectives, and I hope that we will hear from the Minister on this.
I am particularly concerned that the 2013 report of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development, does not mention NTDs. Surely that should be rectified. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
Many of the curses that afflict us cannot be conquered but NTDs can. These ancient diseases can and should be a thing of the past, and it is not misty romanticism or idealism to talk of a world free of NTDs for the next generation. This is achievable, and we would be failing millions, and failing our duty, not to do it. My noble friend therefore deserves our thanks for keeping this issue on the agenda, and the United Nations and development agencies should be lobbied by parliamentarians and Governments the world over to make this achievable objective a reality. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government are committed to doing precisely that.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Hayman for introducing this timely debate and for her continued commitment to bringing this important subject to our attention.
The promises made by the pharmaceutical companies, global health organisations and government representatives in the London declaration two years ago were truly admirable. They were intended to be game-changing and I am delighted to hear from my noble friend that the drug donations, research and development funding and co-operation are making real inroads in the attempt to control, eliminate or eradicate the 10 named NTDs by 2020. The promise of the pharmaceutical companies under the London declaration to donate many more drugs, worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year, was a wonderful step but, as Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said at the time, drug donation is one solution but not the only solution.
In my four minutes, I will stress the importance of our investment in research into NTDs and highlight the work of some of our health-focused universities and their major contribution to development. The UK is a hub of research excellence, with many academics from different institutions all contributing to the fight against NTDs. Their work has global impact and changes the lives of some of the poorest people on the planet. The breadth of UK academic expertise and research in this area is world-leading. It covers anthropology, public health, basic science, epidemiology, clinical medicine, mathematical modelling and operational research.
Two institutions leading the way are Imperial College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Together with the Natural History Museum, they last year formed the London Centre for Neglected Tropical Disease Research. The centre’s research builds on the long-standing expertise of UK academics in the epidemiology and transmission of NTDs, such as that of Professor Alan Fenwick, whose team, working with ministries of health across sub-Saharan Africa, assisted in the delivery of 100 million treatments in Africa and, indeed, the Middle East during 2013. Other speakers have referred to the research priorities of the centre, including bilharzia and intestinal worms.
Elsewhere in the UK, our universities are well placed for multidisciplinary approaches from the bench to the field. The Drug Discovery Unit at Dundee, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has made major breakthroughs in NTD research, with £10 million of funding from the Wellcome Trust, including more than £8 million for a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline. Its teams work across academia, industry and the charitable sector worldwide.
There is always more that needs to be done. For example, there has been very little research into Buruli ulcer, an NTD in the leprosy family which is on WHO’s road map but not included in the London declaration. The exact mode of transmission is still unknown. There is no vaccine for primary prevention, and secondary prevention is based on early detection. WHO says that 80% of cases detected early can be cured with a combination of antibiotics. But early detection and antibiotic treatment require health education at community level, training of health workers and village volunteers, strengthening of health facilities, laboratory confirmation of cases, standardised recording and reporting systems, and monitoring and evaluation of control activities.
I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will agree with me that research remains fundamental to this vital work. Two years on from the London declaration, it is important to remind ourselves that medicines alone will not eradicate the diseases of poverty.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for initiating this important debate. The control of NTDs is a challenge, the success of tackling which has been to some extent quite remarkable to date. To make it a total success story, it is critical that the international community maintains the momentum of the London declaration of 2012 to achieve the goals of the WHO NTD 2012 road map on implementation for the control, elimination and in some cases eradication of NTDs between 2015 and 2020.
Most of the NTDs are parasitic or bacterial diseases characterised, as has been said, by high morbidity and chronicity, which affect some 1.4 billion people in the world. These are severely debilitating and, in some cases, disfiguring diseases, which have profound social, cultural and economic effects. They contribute to poverty and poverty contributes to their causes in a potentially permanent cycle of poverty. This restrains economic development, social justice, equality and female emancipation, as females and children are particularly at risk. The targeting of these diseases is therefore an important contribution for the attainment of the millennium development goals and any such targets to be set thereafter.
Historically, these have been relatively neglected diseases, although, as a number of noble Lords have commented, not by the very strong UK scientific community working in this area. Indeed, we can take pride in the efforts of British scientists such as Professor David Molyneux at Liverpool, Professor Peter Holmes in Glasgow—he is chairman of the NTD committee of WHO—and many others. We have heard about the contributions from Dundee, Imperial and others. We can take great pride in the contribution of those British scientists to ensuring that these diseases are getting adequate research attention. Critically, the WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among other NGOs, are now taking these diseases seriously.
The other major factor, which has not had a great deal of attention in this debate so far but is a major contribution to the control of these diseases, is the generous donation of drugs worth between $2 billion and $3 billion a year by a number of pharmaceutical companies. In spite of this remarkable commercial philanthropy, there is still a funding gap, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has commented, not only in ensuring adequate surveillance, monitoring and delivery of the drugs that we have, but also in research to improve therapies and to provide, in some cases, vaccines. British institutions have a major role to play in this.
Only 0.6% of overseas development assistance for health is devoted to NTDs. The British Government have set an excellent example, along with the US Government and NGOs, but I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in urging the Government to exert all the pressure that they can on other richer countries, particularly in the EU, to ensure that they contribute more to this endeavour.
If ever there was a case of enlightened self-interest, this is it. Healthier, wealthier populations can feed themselves better, relieving the pressure on global food supplies; they are more stable, relieving the pressure on migration; and, ultimately, they will be purchasers of the products and services that richer countries can provide. Tackling the NTDs gives a big bang for one’s buck. Huge benefits accrue from relatively modest investment. Not only does it make economic sense, but it satisfies our obligations to relieve poverty, create opportunity and achieve fairness and social justice for all in our world.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Hayman on her eloquent speech and for keeping this issue so well highlighted. There has been good progress but there is much more to do. I also congratulate the Government on taking such a strong lead on this. In doing so, I of course encourage them to continue to do so in the future.
I declare an interest as chair of trustees of Sightsavers, which deals with two of the major blinding diseases. Trachoma was endemic in London 400 years ago—so it can be eliminated—and I am delighted that DfID has supported Sightsavers to lead a collaboration of partners who are mapping trachoma worldwide. This will enable us to understand exactly what the level of trachoma is in every community and how we can go about eliminating it. It is a very important programme. DfID has also been supporting us in tackling trachoma in Nigeria in particular, with another project with the Government there. I am also delighted that the Diamond Jubilee Trust has chosen trachoma to be its major target for the funding that has been raised, with the intention of eliminating trachoma from five countries in the Commonwealth.
The other great disease we deal with is onchocerciasis, or river blindness. This reminds me of the wonderful co-operation there is in the world of neglected tropical diseases. It is public-private, as we have heard, and, in the case of onchocerciasis, Merck committed itself 25 years ago to give the drug ivermectin free for as long as it takes to eliminate the disease around the world. There is co-operation between countries and co-operation between academic departments and services, which several noble Lords have highlighted. It is worth remembering that there are people who have been quietly working away for 25 to 30 years on those diseases before they had a high public profile, and it is great to see them now getting some recognition for that tremendous work over those many years.
The other group worth mentioning is the communities themselves in Africa. The African Programme for Onchocerciasis Control, which is one of our partners at Sightsavers, has 100,000 community distributors of drugs, one in each village, who, once a year, deliver the drugs to everyone in the village in an attempt to eliminate the disease. That is an excellent example of community self-help, but it also allows them to distribute drugs for other diseases. A point of co-operation in this field is the way that we in Sightsavers, while focusing on blindness, also distribute drugs through that network for lymphatic filariasis and other things.
Your Lordships will gather that I am proud of what Sightsavers does, but I am also proud as a British citizen of what the UK is doing. That seems to me to be real solidarity between some of the richest people in the world and some of the poorest. Of course, there is more to do. As my noble friend Lord Alton said, the reason why it is so urgent is that, largely, we know what to do. We need money and the priority to do it.
Let me finish on three final points. The first, as other noble Lords have said, is that this programme of dealing with neglected tropical diseases needs to integrate with the wider development push, so that it is not just dealing with those diseases but linking it in with water cleanliness and everything else.
The second point, which has not been raised, is that although this is a fight to eliminate those diseases, many people are disabled by them. On the wider issue of disability, there are about 1 billion people disabled in the world, and 80% live in developing countries. They have not been systematically included in international aid programmes, and we ask DfID to develop a strategic approach to disability-inclusive development to sit alongside the valuable work on preventing disability. I ask the Minister to respond on that point; I would very happy to receive a letter. I hope that he can, because that is very important and would be another example of the UK’s leading the way internationally on development by having disability-inclusive development in all its aspects.
My final point is to add my voice to those continuing to press for inclusion of neglected tropical diseases in the MDG successor framework.
My Lords, I must admit that the discipline of three minutes had enabled me to eliminate all the Latin names for neglected tropical diseases and, in the extra minute I have, I do not intend to put them back.
I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for initiating today's debate. Although neglected tropical diseases are the most common infections among the world’s poorest communities, they still receive little public attention. I am also pleased that the noble Baroness has made this debate a regular event since the 2012 global health summit, which set out a way forward to achieve a world free of NTDs.
As we have heard in the debate, NTDs disproportionately affect the world's poorest people and are a serious impediment to economic development in developing nations. Thanks to the noble Baroness, I recently met the special envoys for the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. I too, like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, would like to quote the former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, who I met. I will repeat the quote in full:
“There is no silver bullet remedy to helping a country break the cycle of poverty, but investing in the health of its population offers one of the best options for unlocking economic potential. With full support both from national governments and from the global community, we can … put an end to NTDs on the African continent”—
Treating NTDs is extremely cost-effective, as my noble friend Lord Stone and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, highlighted, through successful public-private partnerships. Pharmaceutical companies donate nearly all the drugs necessary for counteracting the seven most common NTDs. Fifty US cents per person per year can treat and protect against NTDs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, and in turn avert malnutrition, improve education outcomes, improve maternal and child health, reduce new cases of HIV, and set the stage for sustainable economic development.
Despite the momentum since the 2012 summit, and as we have heard, long-term elimination goals cannot be reached without addressing primary risk factors for NTDs, such as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, highlighted, having access to clean water and basic sanitation, vector control and stronger health systems in endemic areas. These issues will need to be addressed beyond the WHO 2020 goals and as part of the post-2015 development framework. Will the Minister update us on the Government’s overall strategy to help control or eliminate the seven major neglected tropical diseases? As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, it is welcome that the high-level panel included NTDs in the healthy living section, but can the Minister tell us what steps the Government will take to ensure that other countries will support us to include specific targets and indicators for NTDs in the final post-2015 framework?
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to this debate, which has been fascinating, and led so movingly and passionately by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who comes to this area with great expertise as a trustee in the Sabin Vaccine Institute and the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. Putting this on the map annually is a way of ensuring that it keeps the heels of Her Majesty’s Government and others to the fire. It ensures that progress continues to be made.
The noble Baroness welcomed me to her world, which is a fascinating one. She outlined some of the creatures that inhabited it. I was going to make a quick aside about being no stranger to this world because it sounded rather familiar as a member of the Government Whips Office, but it would be inappropriate to do so. I am pleased to answer the question because every year neglected tropical diseases adversely affect the lives of more than a billion people, causing disability, disfigurement, stigma and an estimated half a million deaths, mainly in the poorest countries. By helping countries to tackle them we alleviate unnecessary suffering and help to reduce poverty. That point was made by many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Alton, who quoted the former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, in talking about the silver bullet and the bang for the buck, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, mentioned, in terms of public health and its effect on alleviating poverty.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked me to update your Lordships on progress made since the London declaration. Since that meeting the UK has launched a trachoma programme that completes the mapping of the disease. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, referred to that in his association with Sightsavers. It is an incredible programme that will be immensely beneficial as part of the general research effort. We are delighted to be part of it. New programmes will be developed to tackle NTDs in an integrated fashion in Nigeria and South Sudan. I will come back to the point about South Sudan, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, referred to, later in my remarks. We have helped World Health Organisation to strengthen its NTD capacity, and approved a programme to help deal with kala azar in south Asia and east Africa, which I am sure that my noble friend Lord Sheikh will be pleased to note given the personal experiences that he brought to the debate.
We have maintained UK support for the Carter Center’s Guinea worm eradication programme, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Chidgey for raising that example. As someone who was clearly coming to this from a non-expert position, to be frank, it was heartening to hear that a disease that in 1986 had 3.5 million people suffering with Guinea worm in 20 countries could be reduced to 154 in four countries, through concerted effort and focus and investment in research. Within a lifetime, that is a remarkable case study. He was also absolutely right to remind us that we cannot be complacent, because of the example of TB, which he highlighted.
The noble Lord, Lord Stone, spoke about support on river blindness and bilharzia. We have extended our support for that, including the elephantiasis programme. We have invested in more research on how best to deliver the NTD programme in a cost-effective and sustainable way. The point about research, raised effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, was important. I will come back to that if I can, because research is at the heart of this. It was heartening to have so many contributions, including those from the noble Lords, Lord Patel, Lord Alton and Lord Crisp, referring to the excellence in research. Those were the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick: the UK is a hub of research excellence. The noble Lord, Lord Stone, spoke about exciting initiatives with Imperial College combining with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to provide further research in that area. I would be delighted to arrange a meeting with the appropriate Ministers and officials in the Department for International Development to see how we can support that work going forward.
There are also product development partnerships, including the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative—FIND and DNDi—which we are supporting. We also support operational research through a number of channels, including our existing commitments to the World Health Organisation’s tropical disease research programme and wider health-related research programme consortia.
Underpinning the results lies a collaborative network. We continue to work closely with donor colleagues, particularly the US Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation and, of course, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to improve the way in which we tackle these diseases. National Governments are key partners too, particularly in the delivery of mass drug administration through schools and communities. An important point was made on that by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, about this being about not just national Governments—that because these are diseases of the rural poor we should have people down at a village level engaged in tackling them.
Several of your Lordships mentioned the need for better integration between different NTD initiatives, as well as closer working with other disease programmes and with sectors such as water and sanitation, which are all part of the same issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned that, and the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Crisp, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Collins, all referred to the vital way at which we should get better at integrating how we tackle these diseases—not just with medicines, but with water, sanitation and research. These challenges would be much tougher without the major contribution that the pharmaceutical industry makes through sustained and highly effective drug donation programmes. Combining their donations and our support to improve delivery is at the heart of the public and private sector. Several noble Lords referred specifically to the work of Merck in that capacity, and the great generosity that it has shown.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked for an update on the closure of AstraZeneca, and the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, also referred to that. It has announced that it is closing a major factory in India that was producing NTD medicines. Her Majesty’s Government believe that the pharmaceutical industry has an important contribution to make in enhancing access for the poor to essential medicines. The AstraZeneca decision appears to be part of a wider restructuring programme. Other pharmaceutical companies remain active in this precise area, including Merck, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline, and they donate free drugs to certain neglected diseases. The French drug maker Sanofi is also working on a vaccine for dengue fever. That is part of the update there.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, asked me to consider what DfID could be doing for those living with disabilities. More than 1 billion people, 15% of the global population, live with disability. Many of the programmes tackling NTDs prevent disability, so as well as prevention DfID is also pressing for disability to be included in the post-2015 framework under the principle, outlined in the high-level panel report, of “no one left behind”. That is a very important principle that I hope offers some reassurance to the noble Lord, who rightly raises those concerns.
In 2012 we substantially increased our commitment in terms of donations. Several noble Lords referred to the amount of funding that goes into this area and the funding gap that is still there. We acknowledge that, but it is worth putting on record that if you look back to 2008 you see that the average budget going into NTDs from the UK Government for research, medicines and so on was about £1 million. As a result of the London declaration conference that went up to £10 million per annum, and now it stands on average at about £40 million per annum.
The noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Alton, spoke about how it was important to encourage other countries to step up to the plate and make their contributions in this area. Her Majesty’s Government are continuing to do that. It is also the place of international organisations to do that much more effectively, such as the World Health Organisation.
I turn to the millennium development goals. This of course brings us right back, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman commented, not to repeating the same Motion before your Lordships’ House as last year but, this year, emphasising the importance of the millennium development goals. The high-level panel, which was co-chaired by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, included in its recommendations that NTDs should not just be listed as “other diseases” under MDG 6, as they are in the present MDGs, but actually ought to be specified and listed—at least seven of them, and perhaps 10. That was the recommendation that it made, which her Majesty’s Government absolutely support. That programme is now under review. There are some 30 groups that the UN Secretary-General has established to take forward the recommendations by the high-level panel, and they will be put before the General Assembly when it meets in September. The period of time between now and September to re-emphasise the importance of having those diseases specified is therefore very important.
This has been a very important debate in raising this issue in a timely and effective way. Again, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for mentioning it. The words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, when he said that:
“Poverty reduction and the elimination of NTDs go hand-in-hand”,
was quite precise and to the point. That is why Her Majesty’s Government are supporting that, not only with our efforts behind the millennium development goals but with the money that we are putting into research and medicines.
Pre-emption of Parliament: Constitution Committee Report
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the report of the Constitution Committee on the pre-emption of Parliament (13th Report, Session 2012-13, HL Paper 165).
My Lords, I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate the Constitution Committee’s report on the pre-emption of Parliament. As your Lordships are aware, I had the privilege of chairing the committee, and the report follows a short inquiry which we undertook last year. As always, I am grateful to the witnesses who appeared, to our expert advisers, to our officials and to the members of the committee for their invaluable help in producing the report.
At first sight, it may appear somewhat arcane as a subject even for the Constitution Committee but in fact parliamentary pre-emption concerns the central constitutional principle that, in the United Kingdom, Parliament makes the laws and Governments implement them. To put it simply, Ministers may propose changes to matters of policy which involve changes to organisations or institutions—or, indeed, to have full-scale reform and introduce new structures—but they can do so only once Parliament has passed the necessary legislation. That principle is obviously especially important when the proposed policy requires the expenditure of large amounts of public money.
As your Lordships will be aware, however, Governments sometimes jump the gun—changes are begun and money is spent before the relevant Bill has passed through all the stages of Parliament. The argument for doing that is usually that it improves public administration and cost effectiveness, but we have called that practice the pre-emption of Parliament.
I am particularly glad that my noble friend Lord Beecham is speaking for the Opposition today, as he has been one of several Members of the House to draw the Constitution Committee’s attention to this matter. He was particularly concerned about the passage of the Public Bodies Act 2011. At that time, many organisations—notably, the Youth Justice Board—were initially told that they would be abolished. After the passage of the Bill, and particularly amendments made in this House, they were reprieved—but not, of course, before there had been considerable disruption and anxiety within the organisation. A similar issue—sadly, with a different result—arose during the House of Lords proceedings on the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, who regrets that he is unable to be here today, sought to challenge the Government for beginning widespread reorganisation of the NHS, which affected many services, before the Bill had passed, but in that instance was told that it was too late to stop the changes.
The Constitution Committee decided that there were sufficient recent examples to provide the basis for a focused inquiry to enable us to take evidence on the origins of and authority for pre-emption and how it is understood in government. It was a surprisingly fascinating exercise. We uncovered historical precedents and significant conventions which had been hidden in layers of obscurity. We discovered government action often depending on agreements drawn up more than 80 years ago, or on historical advice from individual lawyers which had become enshrined as Whitehall “doctrine”.
I must emphasise that we did not find evidence of deliberate constitutional malpractice or a widespread determination to bypass parliamentary process. Rather, we concluded that the rules governing pre-emption are both complex and unclear and that certain so-called conventions and understandings are anachronistic and unfit for the political realities of the 21st century.
There are two separate strands to our report, the first covering the governance controls on pre-emptive activity and expenditure, and I shall address those in my remarks. The second is the very important legal basis for pre-emption, which my noble friend Lord Hart, who is a fellow committee member, will speak to.
A central aspect to our inquiry was the role played by the Treasury in authorising government expenditure before legislation receives Royal Assent. The foundation of this authority is concordat drawn up as long ago as 1932 between the Treasury and the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, which states that the authority for government expenditure should normally derive from a specific Act of Parliament rather than from any general authority of the annual Appropriation Act. In other words, in the interests of constitutional propriety Parliament must specifically approve expenditure, indicating that it should not normally be incurred before Parliament has approved the expenditure through an Act.
The problems that can arise are well illustrated by the matter that I have already mentioned—the passage of the Health and Social Care Act, when the noble Lord, Lord Owen, among others, raised the question of pre-emptive expenditure and was told that the scale of the expenditure undertaken on NHS reorganisation before the Bill had passed made it practically impossible for the Bill to be abandoned. This effectively meant that Parliament was being told that it could not refuse to pass the legislation. The practical consequences for the NHS, we were told, would have been overwhelming, so the constitutional principle was apparently abandoned.
The Treasury publishes guidance for the Ministers and their departments on pre-emptive public expenditure; this is called Managing Public Money. The guidance states that to incur such expenditure there must be a genuine, urgent need for it and it must be in the public interests. The relevant Bill must have passed Second Reading in the House of Commons and the planned legislation must be certain to become law in the near future. In evidence to us, Mrs Paula Diggle, Treasury officer of accounts and a very senior official, said that the requirements were interpreted by the Treasury as encapsulating parliamentary control over pre-emptive expenditure. She said that the Treasury was the “guardian of Parliament” and ensured that departments did not spend money before appropriate approval had been given. In its written evidence, the Treasury described this as an “ancient convention”. However, the committee concluded that, while the Treasury’s role is important within government, Parliament’s interests over pre-emptive expenditure should primarily be guarded by Parliament itself. Given this, we did not think that it was appropriate to describe the Treasury’s role as a convention in the constitutional sense.
We felt that the same was true for the general understandings about public expenditure being legitimate after a Commons Second Reading had been passed. We found no evidence that Parliament has ever endorsed this practice and, therefore, we felt that it should not be called a constitutional convention.
More significantly, we concluded that there is really no basis for assuming that pre-emptive spending can be justified after Second Reading in the Commons. Of course, a successful Second Reading in another place is usually an indicator that a Bill will become law. However, as your Lordships will be aware, particularly from some recent experiences, a Bill may well still be defeated or significantly amended at a later stage. The Second Reading practice is obviously complicated when a Bill starts in the Lords. We therefore decided that the Second Reading really carries no independent constitutional force.
In our final section, on the political oversight and authority for pre-emption, we concluded that Parliament should be much better informed than it is at present about the details of pre-emptive activity in advance. At the moment, there is no standard procedure and we recommend that a consistent method of explanation and information should be developed, perhaps by way of an Oral Statement during a Bill’s passage or through statements in documents accompanying a Bill. We further recommend that the Government should at the end of each Session produce a Written Statement summarising the pre-emptive activity undertaken across all departments and including the amount spent and the powers under which the Ministers acted. I am grateful that the Government have accepted those recommendations in their written response to us.
Overall, we felt that it would be useful and constitutionally important that the principles and practices covering pre-emption should be consolidated into one authoritative statement, to be included in the next edition of the Cabinet Manual. In their response the Government agreed to revise the relevant guidance in the Treasury document Managing Public Money and to refer to it in the Cabinet Manual.
I emphasise that the committee’s central concern was that at present the rules and understandings used by Ministers are opaque and, in places, inappropriately ancient. This militates against both good public administration and good constitutional practice, even when that constitution is unwritten.
I am grateful to the Government for their written reply to our report and for accepting some of our recommendations. Although their response is positive in tone, I think it is fair to describe some of the replies to our points as somewhat terse. Perhaps the Minister could be slightly more expansive today.
I return to the fundamental point in our report: where pre-emptive activity or expenditure is such that it threatens effective parliamentary scrutiny, it should not be undertaken. It is for Parliament, not the Executive, to decide whether and when to change the law. I look forward to the debate and to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, on initiating this debate and the Constitution Committee on producing this timely and important report. In the time available, I wish to make two points. The first is one of clarification. For me, the key quotation in the report is that of Sir Stephen Sedley at paragraph 68, as distinguishing,
“between acting in certain ways in case draft legislation becomes law, and acting as if it were already law. The latter is prohibited in general terms; the former is not”.
That is a clear distinction, but it is one somewhat masked by the title of the report. The report states in paragraph 2:
“During this inquiry we have described Government action in anticipation of Parliament passing a bill as the ‘pre-emption of Parliament’”.
For me, “pre-emption” constitutes the second of Sir Stephen Sedley’s categories. It does not encompass both. There is a difference between anticipatory action and pre-emptive action. The first, in some circumstances, may be acceptable. The second is not.
There are no grounds for pre-empting Parliament’s capacity to enact primary legislation. If there is some urgency, it is in the gift of Government to seek all-party agreement to a Bill being passed in the course of 24 or 48 hours. There are various instances where that has occurred. Any claim for pre-emption in the event of a national emergency has in large measure been eliminated by the Civil Contingencies Act.
My second point is on the other aspect, that of anticipatory action. The committee recognises that waiting for a Bill to pass may impose such strict restraint on the Executive as to be inefficient or expensive. This, it says, is widely recognised. The report proceeds on the basis of the acceptance that there is a case for such anticipatory action. It does not seek to challenge it; it is more concerned with the mechanisms by which it is reported and scrutinised.
I fear that I am going to take a more sceptical view. We really need to test the case rather than take it as given. I do not challenge the claim that preparatory work may need to be undertaken by the Government before a law comes into effect. However, we already have a mechanism for that, one that ensures parliamentary approval before action is taken. I refer to commencement orders. Through their use, one does not have to anticipate parliamentary approval. Parliament has already considered the measure and the Minister is acting on the basis of statutory authority in deciding when to bring the provisions into effect. I initiated a debate in November last year on such orders and, in replying to the debate, my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble confirmed that the Government had no plans to change the use of commencement orders.
Given the use of such orders, then, what therefore is the case for anticipatory action by Government? The report cites two activities that could qualify but I am not persuaded by either example. Hiring a project team is something that should await enactment and is the sort of thing that can be undertaken before a provision is commenced. One could sound out the potential members in advance, but that is a different matter, entailing no commitment and no expense. As for scoping inquiries, I am not clear why they would be undertaken after a Bill has been introduced. I would be rather worried if a measure had been drafted before a scoping inquiry was undertaken.
I therefore invite the Minister to explain the case for anticipatory action in the context of my point about commencement orders. It is not sufficient to say that there is a case for taking anticipatory action if that action can be taken following Parliament’s approval of the measure and before the relevant provision is commenced. We need to be far more rigorous in making sure that anticipatory action is undertaken only in truly exceptional circumstances—I look forward to hearing what they are—and that the Government, in reporting these to the House, explain why the action cannot be taken after Royal Assent but can be before the relevant provision is commenced. That at the very least will impose a useful discipline and, I trust, a deterrent.
I very much welcome the committee’s report, shedding light as it does on a largely neglected but important topic. I welcome the Government’s response, but we need to build on what is before us in order to ensure that Parliament is not taken for granted.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, on securing the debate and the committee on its choice of subject, for many of the reasons raised by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. The report reveals government practices that are indeed obscure. They may be occasional, but if one can determine a pattern then that is very helpful to the House. They are governed by an obscure and complex set of protocols, and when they are described as a convention that sets alarm bells ringing in this House. I found the evidence fascinating and, to borrow the noble Baroness’s term, certainly arcane.
I have two reasons for contributing today. First, I completely agree with the witness who said that this development belonged to the,
“longstanding narrative detailing the sidelining of Parliament by the executive and the perceived decline of Parliament as an institution”.
I take that point. Many years ago I was a clerk in the House of Commons, and from that position I have watched the erosion of parliamentary control, with the distinguished exception of the recent Select Committee system, and it is of profound concern to me. Secondly, at the time when the Public Bodies Bill was passed, I was the chair of English Heritage and therefore I declare an interest in retrospect.
The committee spent a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of the Ram doctrine and dealing with the Treasury assumption of guardianship of Parliament, which is a very counterintuitive concept. The question of how far the Government can go, or how much it can it get away with—I take the noble Baroness’s point that there is nothing very deliberate or malign about this, but there is certainly a behaviour—was asked and answered in many different ways in this report.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Norton, I found that Sir Stephen Sedley made a particularly important clarification between the legitimacy of anticipatory acts and the abuse of power explicit in presumptuous acts. I welcome the distinction that the noble Lord made regarding commencement orders because that gives us an important point to think about.
I read the conclusions of the report with pleasure, particularly that,
“restraint … should apply to all pre-emptive actions, not just those involving expenditure under the new services rules”.
My concern, however, was rather specific. Having been assiduous and read the written evidence, I came across the Treasury’s own written memorandum and—in the Treasury’s own words—the demanding conditions to justify pre-emption that must be met in every respect. Frankly, it is not clear to me how the Public Bodies Act and the Health and Social Care Act ever passed those tests at all. The memorandum describes how the rules apply in practice:
“Proposals to anticipate Royal Assent are always declined where … the bill in question is sufficiently controversial that its passage cannot be assured”.
It goes on to say in detail in paragraph 16:
“There must be little doubt that the legislation will pass substantially unchanged, and in the near future”.
I do not think that there have ever been two Bills presented to this House that fell more resoundingly into this category than the Bills I have mentioned. By no stretch of the imagination could they not have been called controversial. The assumption raises questions: on what basis did the Government make that assumption? Where does consultation fit into this?
As we know, both Bills were notorious because of the lack of consultation. If I may make a personal reference, English Heritage was not threatened with dismantling before Second Reading but we were on death row with all the others, with a deeply uncertain future ahead of us. The first that the public bodies attached to the DCMS knew about the Bill—and there are many, because it is essentially a devolved department—was when we were summoned by the Secretary of State and told about it, and the bare bones were set out. I asked immediately whether there would be consultation, to which the Secretary of State, who was Jeremy Hunt at the time, said, “No”. I said, “Well, how are we going to know?” and he said, “You will be listed in a schedule to the Bill”. That was the extent of consultation.
Likewise, much of the burden of the argument against the NHS Bill was that it controverted a manifesto commitment not to introduce major change—therefore, by definition, there could have been no consultation. The evidence of the Youth Justice Board underlined this point. It said that if consultation had taken place before a decision was finally made, it was just possible that the Government might have changed their mind, so heavy was the burden of contradiction in the evidence. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made the same point in his evidence.
The other condition that was identified by the Treasury that was also unmet was that:
“The action proposed must be reversible or retain some use if not confirmed, ie no potentially nugatory commitment of any significance can be entered into”.
I cannot see how that is fulfilled by the Public Bodies Act in relation to the RDAs, for example—and again I cite the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. The Treasury answered that by saying that the public bodies legislation contained wider flexibilities, but it was not so wide that it would have been justified in demolishing without replacement the fundamental character of those bodies. Neither was it true of the NHS Act—and my noble friend has made that point. The argument constantly used against the Opposition was that we were actually making it worse by pursuing opposition that would only add to the chaos of what was already happening on the ground in the NHS. There is a huge leap of logic here, because the argument in the Treasury response was that it enabled the Department of Health to put in place the transition programme, but that programme was necessary only because the Government had sprung a major reform on the NHS that went far beyond its duty of promoting a comprehensive health service. I hope that the Minister will feel able to comment on the memorandum and on how it was applied in those cases.
My point is to strengthen the case, which has already been made in the report, that these two Bills expose the issue raised by pre-emption and the explanations offered for that. The point about the difference between anticipation and presumption fits into that argument. I thought that the summary of conclusions was appropriate and precise, and I agree with it—and I think that the Committee has won some ground from the Treasury over language and process. But, my word, this House needs to be vigilant in future about the operation of this.
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the committee on producing what I believe to be a notable constitutional report. The response of the Government seems to have recognised its significance although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said, it was somewhat terse. What is required is a clear statement from the Government not just about pre-emptive public expenditure but about pre-emptive action that bypasses Parliament. They have indicated that they will set out their pre-emptive public expenditure rules in their text, Managing Public Money, and refer to it in the Cabinet Manual, but that does not go quite far enough. The Public Bodies Act has been mentioned several times in the course of this short debate, and I agree with all the points that have been made about that.
It is exceedingly important that Parliament and the Executive are open with each other and that they come together when there is a need for pre-emptive action, make that need explicit and clear and seek to justify it. There is a good deal of uncertainty in the law about the Crown’s common-law powers.
It is fair to argue that if we had to have the Executive enabled by legislation to do absolutely everything, that would impose a huge burden on Parliament and simply not make sense, but with government as immensely powerful as it now is, we have to have a better dialogue. That is what I am so grateful to the committee for having opened up. I believe that we will see real progress and that the power of Parliament to comment on executive action will be enormously enhanced by the recognition of that problem.
My Lords, my little contribution to this debate is almost entirely in an historical vein, but I have one or two preliminary observations. For the best part of two years, I have had the good fortune to be a member of the Constitution Committee. I am extremely grateful to my chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and all my colleagues. I am also very conscious of the large debt that is owed to the committee staff, its clerk, policy analyst, administrative assistant and legal advisers. They all serve us quite superbly.
During this inquiry, we learnt about the strict enforcement of unchanging rules laid down long ago under which the Treasury will authorise spending before a Bill becomes law. For me as a historian, the most memorable aspect of that absorbing inquiry was the touching faith in the internal validity and force of the rules displayed in the Treasury’s evidence to us on the grounds of their longevity. The Treasury’s written note to us in January 2013 referred to,
“an ancient convention that the Treasury should strive to look after Parliament’s interest in Whitehall”.
The note went on to refer to the Ram doctrine, adumbrated in November 1945, with which we became extremely familiar during the course of our inquiry as the reformulation in more modern form of “an ancient convention”.
“Ancient” is of course a relative term, but I was struck by the extent to which, in the Treasury’s view, it covers all but the most recent times and provides an apparent justification for a lack of precise answers to historical questions. In the committee’s oral evidence session with Treasury representatives, which took place exactly a year ago on 6 February 2013, it emerged that one of the conventions on which the Treasury has been relying,
“dates back a long way. We have traced something that may be of help. It is from a fat book that is very ancient and yellow, and calls itself the Public Accounts Committee Epitome of Reports”.
The date of that very ancient yellow work? 1884, the year that Gladstone passed the third Reform Act and, as it happened, my grandfather was born. Neither Gladstone’s feet nor my grandfather’s would normally be thought of as having walked in ancient times.
I was left feeling very puzzled by all that. Questions about the origins of ancient conventions that go back no further than the 19th century ought surely to be taken straight to the Treasury’s archives for full, detailed answers. Gladstone, perhaps the greatest of all 19th-century Chancellors, would have insisted on proper record-keeping. It is highly likely that the Treasury’s self-appointed role as the guardian of “Parliament interest in Whitehall” stems from Gladstone’s years as Chancellor in the 1850s and the 1860s—years when, in his own words, he gloried in the name of skinflint, saving the nation’s candle ends. By establishing the Treasury’s firm control over Westminster’s costs at this time he brought down public spending in this country as a proportion of GNP from 10% to 6.4%. The people’s William did not believe in spending the people’s money to create public services for the people.
This rather lengthy historical detour leads to an obvious request of my noble friend the Minister. Could he please check on the state of the Treasury’s archives and, assuming that no misfortune has befallen it, consider issuing a departmental directive that it should be consulted to provide answers to historical points of the kind that were not insignificant in the committee’s inquiry into the pre-emption of Parliament? What emerged clearly from the committee’s consideration of the historical background to the Treasury’s central role since the 19th century is that working habits and practices, which have come to be venerated and hallowed on the grounds of their ancient character have, over the years, mutated into conventions. The committee’s report called for redefinition. It states:
“We accept that the Treasury was not seeking to elevate its internal practices to the status of constitutional conventions. However, clarity in this area is important. We recommend that the Treasury's practices should not be described as ‘conventions’”.
In their very succinct reply to the report the Government stated that they would
“no longer use the term convention to describe these matters”.
That is very satisfactory and other aspects of the Government’s response are also welcomed by us. Not one of the committee’s recommendations has been rejected, although, as has already been pointed out, the acceptance of some was extremely terse. There are reasons for regarding the Government’s response as resembling a heartening outcome for the members of the committee and its excellent staff.
My Lords, I am also a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Constitution, whose report on the pre-emption of Parliament we are debating today. I thank my noble friend Lady Jay for instigating this debate. She has described the ambit of the report and its principal themes.
I simply wish to add a few words on chapter 3 concerning the legal basis of pre-emption in the context of the Crown’s common-law powers, which have been summarised as the power to do things that are ancillary or incidental to the ordinary business of central government. As we shall see, some have argued that the powers go wider than that. The statement of the ministerial powers that has been most frequently relied on by the Government is to be found in a memorandum drafted by Sir Granville Ram—of whom we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lexden—who was then the First Parliamentary Counsel in 1945. However, it was not published until 2003, following a series of Questions by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.
So, who was Sir Granville Ram? The Dictionary of National Biography states that he was,
“a shortish, bespectacled man with a suspicion of a paunch and a rather misleading air of Pickwickian benevolence … was perhaps less scholarly, and certainly more rumbustious than the typical parliamentary counsel. He usually relied on his assistants to produce the first draft of a bill, before he pulled their work to pieces and comprehensively recast it. His pride in his own legal prose was such that he would repeatedly smother texts with stylistic alterations, some of them trivial. Subordinates, who favoured more functional wording, called him the Maestro behind his back”.
My professional life has often been pre-empted by the Granville Rams of this world, and the memorandum states that a Minister of the Crown is unlike a statutory body, which is a creature of statute and has no powers, except those conferred on it. In contrast, a Minister is not a creature of statute and may, as an agent of the Crown, exercise any powers which the Crown can exercise except those precluded by statute. The memorandum, of course, is an opinion prepared by counsel for his client—in this case, the Government. As such it has no force in law. Furthermore, the majority of our witnesses agreed that, whatever may have been the position in 1945, the memorandum is not an accurate reflection of the common-law powers today. Today, in addition to statutory restraints, Ministers’ ability to exercise common-law powers is constrained by public law, by limitations on government action enforced by judicial review, by human rights law, by the pre-existing rights and significant interests of private persons, and by rules on financial propriety set out in the 1932 concordat and the Treasury guide Managing Public Money.
More troubling to the committee was the statement by the Treasury that there existed a doctrine, derived from the Ram memorandum, enshrined in the proposition that “Ministers can do anything a natural person can do”, which is echoed in the current Cabinet Manual. This was questioned by several of our witnesses, including Sir Stephen Sedley, a retired Lord Justice of Appeal, and Sir Jeffrey Jowell, a distinguished academic. The Attorney-General believed it to be an inaccurate summary because the powers were now constrained by public law, propriety, the rule of law and human rights. Our view, therefore, was that the so-called Ram doctrine was unhelpful, inaccurate and should no longer be used.
We found there to be some disagreement as to the scope of the Crown’s common-law powers. Some, such as the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, said:
“If the Crown has common law as well as statutory or prerogative powers then I agree they are ancillary only and extend to such matters as entering into contracts, paying rents or salaries and conveying property. They do not extend … to enable the Government to pre-empt Parliament’s legislative process, and to contend otherwise would be contrary to the rule of law”.
Others, such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, and the Attorney-General, thought that the powers went beyond ancillary powers and were more extensive. Two decisions in the Court of Appeal in 2000 and 2008, referred to in our report, did not satisfactorily resolve the position because there were conflicting obiter dicta from Lord Justice Richards and Lord Justice Carnwath, as he then was.
The true extent of the common-law power of the Crown can be definitively determined only by the courts. Nevertheless, we concluded that although the Crown has common-law powers and is therefore qualitatively different from a statutory body such as local authorities, those powers are constrained and circumscribed by the principles that I have mentioned and are referred to in our report. Accordingly, we recommended that where government publications such as the Cabinet Manual refer to the Crown’s common-law powers, it is made abundantly clear that those powers are limited by the restraints of public law and constitutional principle.
The Government’s response has been to accept that the advice in the Ram memorandum is necessarily incomplete because it pre-dates important developments in public law as well as the Human Rights Act, and they accept that it cannot have the force of law. However, they go on to say that the principle described in the Ram opinion remains valid and that the Crown has common-law powers which may be exercised subject to overarching legal constraints. Interestingly, the current 2013 edition of Managing Public Money does not refer to the Ram memorandum. So matters are still not completely clear and I would welcome the Minister’s detailed response.
My Lords, this Government have a record of pressing on with legislation paying scant attention to the views, for example, of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on draft Bills, Select Committees in the Commons designed to provide a measure of pre-legislative scrutiny or, indeed, the outcomes of what are often short periods of consultation. I coined the phrase “pre-legislative implementation”, now supplanted by the term “pre-emption”, in relation to what happened under the then Public Bodies Bill, where, in what was trumpeted as a bonfire of the quangos, the abolition of regional development agencies was proposed. Despite receiving repeated assurances from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, whom I acquit of any personal culpability, that there would be consultation and that each case would be considered on its merits, the Government pressed ahead as if the Bill had been enacted, and stripped the RDAs of their staff, budgets and assets without any consultation long before Royal Assent.
The Constitution Committee noted, as we have heard, analogous approaches in relation to the Youth Justice Board and the then Health and Social Care Bill, in respect of which the noble Lord, Lord Owen, observed,
“we should not feed the idea that legislation can reach us but we cannot do anything about it because it has already been pre-empted”.—[Official Report, 8/2/12; col. 261.]
Similar considerations arose over the proposed abolition of the Chief Coroner’s Office, which, like the Youth Justice Board, was ultimately saved.
The most worrying and immediate example of pre-emption is currently in process. It concerns the future of a service with a critical impact on public safety and the lives of those for whom it is responsible—namely, the probation service. The Government are bent on privatising 70% of the work of this service without properly piloting how the new system would work. There is huge concern about the risk to the public of outfits like G4S, Serco and other organisations that purport to be able to deliver almost any public service without prior experience. This is particularly acute as offenders move between risk categories. A binary system for probation is clearly unsatisfactory. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and I collaborated in moving amendments to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which began its life in this House, without which the matter would never even have been discussed. The amendment requiring any major reorganisation to be approved by Parliament was passed by this House but overturned in the House of Commons. It will no doubt return to us shortly.
The Government, it emerged from the documents, deliberately avoided including their proposals in the Bill precisely because of the opposition that they knew would be engendered. They simply ignored the concerns and pressed on with this massive reorganisation—or should I say fragmentation?—of a service with a demonstrable record of achievement, recognised by a national award. They continue to do so now, even though their timetable has slipped beyond the recklessly adopted target date of, appropriately enough, 1 April, and they do so under the cover of a misrepresentation of which the Lord Chancellor should be ashamed. He makes much of the reoffending rate of prisoners released after serving short sentences as if this were something for which the probation service were responsible whereas, as he must know, the service has no responsibility for those offenders. This is the latest and most egregious example of a Government overreaching themselves and treating Parliament with contempt. If the Government get their way with this issue, they will be signing a blank cheque in their own favour, enabling them to act first and legislate afterwards, if at all.
The Government’s response to the report from the Constitution Committee is surely unsatisfactory. While they accept the committee’s advice in principle, they merely note its conclusion that it should be recognised that Parliament’s interests are primarily guarded by Parliament itself, rather than being assumed by the Treasury. Why did the Government not accept, rather than merely “note”, the committee’s recommendation? Will the Minister now say that they accept the recommendation?
For that matter, why has the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, who is much respected across this House, been given—or perhaps drawn—the short straw of having to reply to this debate as if it were a Treasury matter? It is not. As noble Lords have said, it is a constitutional matter going well beyond the remit of one individual department. Will the Government seek Parliament’s endorsement for the guidance that they propose to issue? That would be one test of the seriousness with which they take this very valuable report.
The Government adheres stubbornly to the advice of the Ram opinion, which emerged shortly after I was born in early 1945—not quite as ancient as those referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, but, I feel, getting on for that. However, the Government take the view that,
“the Crown does have common law powers which may be exercised subject to overarching legal constraints”,
as my noble friend has just pointed out. However, surely the question is not whether the Government can legally fall back on an ancient principle but whether it is right and reasonable to do so.
The Government merely note the committee’s central conclusion—that,
“the principle of restraint in the name of good constitutional practice should apply to all pre-emptive actions, not just those involving expenditure”.
The Government adopt the same stance in relation to the committee’s ringing assertion that:
“Where the pre-emption involved is such that it threatens effective parliamentary scrutiny, it should not be undertaken. It is for Parliament, not the Government, to decide whether to change the law”.
It was a leading Conservative, Viscount Hailsham, who warned of the dangers of an elective dictatorship. It would appear that a Conservative-led Government are ready to ignore that warning whenever it suits them to do so.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions today and in particular the members of the Select Committee on the Constitution for their extremely thorough report and the airing that it has brought to these very important issues. I have found the discussion that we have just had extremely interesting. I learnt a lot. I am not a lawyer; I had never heard of the Ram doctrine or Sir Greville Ram before I was briefed for this opportunity to take the short straw and respond on behalf of the Government. I am a lot smarter now than I was 45 minutes ago.
For reasons of time, I may not be able to respond to all the individual issues that have been raised but I will try to cover the key aspects of the Government’s response, answer some of the broad concerns raised today and lay out the steps that the Government are taking to address them. I start by stressing that the pre-emption of parliamentary assent is an area that the Government take seriously, and Her Majesty’s Treasury polices it strongly. We were pleased to note, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, for pointing this out, that the inquiry revealed no widespread use of pre-emption that went against constitutional principles. As the report says, the Treasury does not allow expenditure on new policies until after Second Reading in another place, and then only in very limited circumstances, including there being an urgent public interest to do so. The Treasury has strict criteria to determine whether an area of proposed expenditure is urgent and in the public interest. Although value for money is important, regularity, propriety and Parliament’s wishes are key and fully respected.
Many noble Lords will have seen the written government response. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, is right that it is terse, but it is positive. I will be a little more expansive, but my experience of watching Ministers being too expansive gives me some warning. Several of the recommendations in the report that have been mentioned have already been taken on board, and I shall run through a few to illustrate this because it is important to look at the changes that we have made. For me, the most critical thing about what the committee’s findings bring to light is the importance of transparency and codification. Those two go together because the codification is part of what allows for the transparency, and of course it is the transparency—the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, referred to the dialogue—that allows us all to determine whether the judgments being made are appropriate, given all the circumstances. So although our response is terse, it accepts the need for that codification and transparency, and everything else follows from that.
To list some of the things that we have done, we accept that Ministers should always make clear when pre-emption is intended—where possible, orally at Second Reading but, failing that, in a Written Ministerial Statement; Written Ministerial Statements are always made before a contingency fund advance is permitted, which, as noble Lords know, is how pre-emption is funded; and the Government will publish an annual summary at the end of the parliamentary Session of when pre-emption has taken place during the period. I can tell the Committee that in the current parliamentary Session there have been three instances where spend was permitted in advance of Royal Assent. Two of those were in advance of the Energy Act that received Royal Asset on 18 December 2013, and one advance relates to the Pension Bill, where Royal Assent is planned for April 2014.
The main guidance to departments on the pre-emption of Parliament—or “new services”, in the Treasury’s parlance—is a publication that has been referred to, called Managing Public Money. I can say from my own 14-month experience in the Treasury that there is no duty or activity that is taken more seriously than the control that the Treasury imposes on individual departments. That is a very strongly exercised function. That publication, as has been referred to, was updated in July 2013 in line with the recommendations in the report. We removed the references to the Second Reading conventions—we have stopped calling things conventions that, as noble Lords have pointed out, actually are not—and, to the relief of many noble Lords here, we have also taken out any reference to the Ram doctrine.
The Cabinet Manual also uses these terms but again, consistent with the report’s recommendations, the Cabinet Office will take those views on board when it next reviews the guidance. The Treasury is also going to issue an update to the detailed annexe on new services in the near future to be clearer about the very limited scope for pre-empting Parliament.
The only specific recommendation that the Government are not intending to act on is the proposal that there should be a Written Ministerial Statement at the end of each parliamentary Session listing all ministerial directions made across Government. That is because this information is already published in all departments’ annual accounts and further publication is not considered necessary. However, by way of information, there have been no ministerial directions during the life of the current Government. The Government appreciate that the accounting officer of a department could potentially seek a direction from the Minister if pushed to pre-empt Parliament. However, this is really a signal that further discussion is needed to find a practical and appropriate way through. As noble Lords will be aware, directions are always a last resort.
I shall dip a little further into the detail of some of the issues that noble Lords referred to. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jay and Lady Andrews, referred to the disquiet caused in the cases of both the Health and Social Care Act and the Public Bodies Act. I did my research on these because I understood that that was what had prompted the committee to have a look at this issue. The essence of the Government’s position was that they already had the powers to effect the changes that were put in place. That is why there was no need to call on the contingency fund. The Government were essentially relying on their existing powers to cause those reorganisations.
In the case of the Health and Social Care Act, the Secretary of State for Health has broad duties and wide powers under existing legislation, including the National Health Service Act 2006, which confers a duty to promote a comprehensive health service and allows public expenditure to do so. That enabled the Department of Health to put in place the transition programme, which included setting up clinical commissioning groups, closing down primary care trusts and so on. The savings that the programme is designed to deliver would have been wanted irrespective of the organisation of the NHS to meet the requirements of the spending review.
In the case of the Public Bodies Act, to which a number of noble Lords referred—clearly this was a controversial subject at the time, so I understand their reaction—each of the bodies involved had a bespoke set of duties and responsibilities appropriate to its functions. The powers that they already had left considerable discretion about exactly how the functions should be discharged, which allowed for some reorganisation ahead of Royal Assent. That was the basis on which those actions took place.
The noble Lord, Lord Norton, talked about commencement orders. This is not my particular area of expertise but, as I understand it, it is a timing question, because commencement orders cannot be put until Royal Assent has been given, so it does not help with anticipation.
For clarification, it may be worth my running through the criteria that the Treasury applies to determine whether an action is urgent and in the public interest. The reason why the test would be met is that otherwise there would be an increase in implementation costs, efficiency savings would be lost or it would be detrimental to the public. Ministerial or policy imperative is not a relevant criterion in securing a contingencies fund advance.
A lot of the discussion was around pre-emptive action rather than pre-emptive expenditure. I agree that this is a difficult issue, which is why transparency and scrutiny are so important. In the vast majority of cases, though, pre-emptive actions will require a financial element, which is why Managing Public Money and the Treasury’s watchdog approach are a substantial defence, although I agree that that cannot work in absolutely every case.
The noble Lord, Lord Hart, was far more eloquent about the Ram doctrine than I could possibly be. I can tell the Committee that we have removed reference to it. The Treasury and the Government absolutely accept that the actions of a Minister are constrained by public law, human rights law and so on, as the noble Lord pointed out. It is the balance that really counts.
To sum up, the Government take controlling the pre-emption of Parliament extremely seriously. We are grateful that noble Lords have shown such an interest in this area and shed such light on it. I think that the changes that will result will make us a better Government. We have looked again at our guidance and modified it, and we are satisfied that we are operating a robust system.
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of inequality on social mobility in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, it is a privilege to have secured this debate today on inequality and social mobility.
The American and British dream, that if you work hard and do the right thing, you prosper and do better economically than your parents, no longer applies. Indeed, the funeral rites for that were announced this week by President Obama in his State of the Union address when he said:
“Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by—let alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all”.
That picture is almost identical to the situation that exists in the United Kingdom, where we have seen a rapid increase in inequality in the past few decades and we are now at a lowly 28th out of 34 in the OECD equality league table. The IMF, the World Economic Forum at Davos and the Economist put inequality as one of the top global risks. In our country, Alan Milburn, the social mobility czar, and ex-Prime Minister John Major have expressed similar sentiments. They say that one of the causes of deepening inequality and static social mobility is the entrenched elitism in the United Kingdom.
That trend is most marked at the top of the pay scale. The income share of the top 1% doubled from 7.1% in 1970 to 14.3% in 2005. In 1997, the income of the top 0.1% of earners was 61 times the average of those in the bottom 90% of earners; by 2007, that multiple had climbed to 95 times and is still rising.
Why should we be concerned by that inequality? Frankly, because the disparity between rich and poor is leading to more alienation that, allied with high youth unemployment and growing inequality, harbours serious economic, social and political divisions. If not tackled, it will worsen.
Is growth the answer? We have seen growth without gain. The social contract in society is broken. It went along the lines that everyone got a share of the pie—some got a bigger share, some got a smaller share—but now some are getting no share of the pie at all.
The conventional political response has been framed simply as securing a steady recovery. In the past, we could assume that living standards always increased when the economy grew, but that was contingent on social and economic characteristics of the economy which no longer prevail. Change has taken place imperceptibly under our very feet and we can therefore no longer assume that a return to growth will mean gain for everyone. One of the most depressing statistics on social mobility came out of the OECD in a document about what was termed inter-generational social mobility. It demonstrated in the UK the extent to which a son's earnings are likely to reflect those of the father. Britain was top of the poll in that. So the message is that, in Britain, if you have rich parents your prosperity is more guaranteed; if you have poor parents, your future prosperity is stunted. That is why we need to look at that problem again.
The high levels of income inequality definitely generate political and social problems. In the book, What Money Can't Buy, by Michael Sandel, which I recommend to everyone, he states that,
“at a time of rising inequality, the marketisation of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools”.
The big question for society is: how do we learn to negotiate, abide by our differences and come to care for the common good? At a recent talk given by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, he said that when he and his wife first came to London after spending many years in the north, it was a tale of two of cities, as Charles Dickens would have said. These are issues to which we must attend. As Parliamentarians the question is: do the present policies aid or detract from the common good? In this Palace, 35% of our MPs were privately educated in a country where 7% of the population have been privately educated. Ten per cent of our MPs were educated at just 13 schools, 12 of which were private. So, 60 of the nation’s Parliamentarians come from a microcosm of the educational establishment in our country. If we have 4,500 schools and 10% come from 13 schools, it shows the problem that has been built up.
I do not want to enter into class issues, although Warren Buffett got it right when he said amusingly class warfare had been going on for 20 years and that his class had won. It certainly won in the economic stakes. Given the shocking lack of social mobility, how do we, in the words of Alan Milburn, the social mobility tsar, break the glass ceiling? More and more people are coming out against that, whether in the law, medicine, politics or journalism. Alan Milburn said that it had all the hallmarks of social engineering.
Change can come only from the highest level of government, and only if the Prime Minister takes personal charge of the inequality and social mobility agenda. No. 10 has to be the driver in this to break the conventional approach to such problems. Departments should have to report to the Prime Minister’s Office on what new mindset and initiatives they are adopting to ensure that policies achieve a fairer society with equal opportunities for all, irrespective of class, income or gender. We need a new long-term agenda. We should abandon the political horizon of four or five years, equivalent to a Parliament.
I chaired for the Fabian Society a very dense document, which I recommend for bed-time reading as I am sure that noble Lords would get there quickly. The 2030 Vision report recognised that not all public money was spent well. As a result, we recommended that all spending decisions should include a 10-year test on what they would achieve, and a 10-year cost. By doing so, the long-term impacts would be considered, including the effects on society and on the public agencies. The problems are not confined to the United Kingdom; they are mirrored elsewhere and started decades ago. International co-operation is a must if we have to tackle this properly.
Talking of Davos, Klaus Schwab, who established it said that,
“systems that propagate inequality, or that seem unable to stem its rise, contain the seeds of their own destruction”.
To avoid such scenarios and create pathways to increase social mobility will require not only new policies but a new mindset.
Economic prosperity and social stability are two sides of the same coin. Only if they move forward in concert can we achieve a better, fairer and more prosperous society. As the ex-American President said, “It’s the economy, stupid”. I suggest that it is also the social, stupid.
My Lords, a fair society is an open society, one in which every individual is free to succeed. The lack of social mobility is damaging to individuals and leaves countries’ economic potential unfulfilled. That is why improving social mobility is the principal goal of Her Majesty’s Government’s social policy.
Her Majesty’s Government have recognised that things can be done to aid the development of social mobility. Some examples are the creation of the business compact to encourage fair access to job opportunities; the increase in the pupil premium; access to early years education for two year-olds; the youth contract; and the increase in the availability of apprenticeships. Evidence shows that improvements are being made in some areas but there is still more that can be done.
In May 2012 the Social Mobility APPG published a report, Seven Key Truths about Social Mobility. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, who is in her place, and the members of the APPG for their work in this area. The report identified that character and resilience are the missing link in mobility,
“a force at play throughout the lifecycle but too often overlooked in favour of more tangible, easier-to- measure factors”.
So what can be defined as character and resilience? What characteristics does an individual possess that make for resilience? The list is long: tenacity and perseverance; the ability to overcome obstacles; self-esteem; self-discipline; aspiration and expectation; understanding the relationship between effort and reward; and staying power and self-reliance.
The golden age of social mobility is often said to have been between the post-war years and the 1970s. I am sure that many of us here today are the product of parents and ancestors who demonstrated character and resilience in their lives. My mother was adopted into a family where the sons, much older than my mother, who had survived the First World War returned to what seemed a very bleak future. They organised a barrow and started a business selling groceries on the streets of Bradford. The business developed and my grandmother became the owner, with her sons, of a successful grocery and delicatessen business, no longer working from a wheelbarrow. The family recognised the value of education, which in those days was not freely available, and paid for my mother to attend a good school. Their success was down to drive and resilience.
My father lost his father when he was very young. There was no widow’s pension in those days to support his mother and his partially sighted brother. My father was bright and was offered a place at the grammar school. However, his mother, who worked as a housekeeper to provide a home for her family, could not afford to pay the fees so my father could not accept the place. He had to leave school at 14 and work long hours, studying for a degree at night. He became an apprentice to Mr Rolls of Rolls-Royce fame and developed a successful career as a professional engineer.
I know that there are many who fight against the odds today and succeed in spite of all that life throws at them. I fully approve of the care that the welfare state provides today in all its forms, but I sometimes wonder how much resilience we have lost along the way. Governments have a role in ensuring that barriers to mobility are removed and that equality is truly achievable. The key determinant is, however, the attitude of the individual—the fire in the belly. The desire to succeed comes from within and is not something that government and state can create.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I shall take up two points that he made that are important to the character of this debate. He talked about the inequalities that have grown over the past few decades. It is important that we see that this has been under the stewardship of both parties—indeed, all three parties. He also made the point that not all public money has been well spent. That also colours the debate.
I probably belong to what I would describe as the guilty generation. My father never earned more than £1,000 a year in the whole of his working life. I was born on an ICI estate, but I went to grammar school on a Lancashire county scholarship and to university on a similar scholarship with a grant. I was never quite aware of how universities were funded in those days, but it certainly meant that my social mobility was on the back of a very generous state. In those days, of course, the early 1960s, I represented only 6% of my generation. I have never accepted that more means worse as far as university education is concerned, and have welcomed the expansion over recent years.
If I look back at the real advantages that I had, I see that I had aspirational parents; I had a home with books; I had a secure family background; and I lived in a stable community—not a particularly wealthy community, but one with values. I want to share two things that stick in my mind from my experience over the past few years as a Minister. One was a visit to a school in Leicester. I was walking around and talking to the deputy headmaster. I asked him, “Any problems here?” and he said, “Yes, that big estate over there is mainly white working class. In that estate now, we have the third generation of welfare dependency”. The other was a visit to a young offender institute. I was walking around with one of the people in charge, and we crossed a yard and saw about a dozen young, mainly black, youths, He just nodded across and said, “Most of those can’t read or write. Their contact with our educational system has been but passing for the whole of their lives”.
Those two stories encapsulate the problem for people of my generation and that of the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I came into politics with certainties. We were going to implement the Beveridge report, provide a welfare state that would deal with poverty and we would have comprehensive education that would be not bog-standard but a gateway for social mobility. We need to accept that some of the aspirations of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have not come about. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord McFall, we have found mounting inequalities over the past three decades. What is more, we have found them being embedded in our society. I received a very good brief from Oxfam. It quotes Sir Peter Lampl of the Sutton Trust, who said recently:
“Social mobility in Britain is much lower than in other advanced countries and is declining—those from less privileged backgrounds are more likely to continue facing disadvantage into adulthood, and the affluent continue to benefit disproportionately from educational opportunities”.
I do not think that there is some magic solution to this. Perhaps we will get a fourth way or a fifth way later—I do not know. Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith may not be everybody’s cup of tea politically but there is no doubt that, in trying to deal with welfare dependency and educational failure, they are addressing the right problems. In that respect, there needs to be a certain humility across the political divide in meeting those problems.
I believe that what the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, said was right: we have got to go upstream to the very young as a first step. I look forward, certainly with humility on my side, to the contributions that will follow.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for his analysis, not least his observation that growth is not the answer and the unintended consequences of marketisation, as he called it. I probably want to explore what he might have meant by “the social, stupid”—there is an important clue in that.
I am engaged in this issue. In the City of Derby, where I work, I chair the inner city renewal project. That is the local authority and all kinds of voluntary and faith groups looking at how we can tackle this at grass-roots level, where there are a lot of people who are disadvantaged, with no social mobility and no equality in terms of finance, environment or opportunity. There are two ways of doing this. One is a needs-based approach—what are the needs and what resources can you put in to try to improve things?—and there is what they call an asset-based approach, which means asking what these people have in their own potential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, said—what do they have that can be grown so that they can contribute?
I want to name a couple of presuppositions that we have to be careful of in this debate. We live in a world where everyone wants the social mobility graph to go up. There is a celebrity culture and everyone wants to be up there. Of course, things can only go up if other things go down. It is a very complex world. We tend to see equality and social mobility through a very individual lens. That is where “the social, stupid” is so important.
I want to talk about what I think is the missing ingredient here—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McNally, hinted at it with his common values—which is mutuality. This is a debate with anecdotes and stories, and I am going to tell a very short story to illustrate mutuality. Aristotle says that we are social animals and the Christian Gospel says that you have to love your neighbour. We cannot live on our own—mutuality.
A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to rededicate the grave of a man called William Coltman VC. He received four other awards for bravery in the First World War, and he is buried in a village called Winshill near Burton-on-Trent. He went to war as a young man with a wife and young child, and he was a stretcher-bearer. On the front he won many awards and was in fact the most highly decorated soldier in the whole of the First World War—this is someone who did not have an officer rank. There are amazing stories of him crawling out and rescuing people, Germans as well as Allied people, saving lives and serving others. He came back to the little village that he had left, Winshill, as a local hero, but he resumed his job for the local council. He was a council gardener—he worked in what we call the parks department, I suppose—for all his life. There was no social mobility in terms of his becoming a vice-chancellor, his salary going up or whatever. His life was about service to others. He was involved in the Christian church in the place and he ran a Sunday school to form young people in mutuality. However, his life was fulfilled, exemplary and appropriate. He did not have to go up the social scale and did not have to earn a certain amount of money, but he lived a life that was full of mutuality.
In a world where mutuality is disappearing in personal relationships, which we see through an individual lens, from the workplace, because it is all about individual rights and benefits, and from politics, because the pitch that we make is to the selfish interests of each voter to vote for their own best deal, there is an enormous challenge to all of us to face up to what has been called “the social, stupid”. I ask the Minister: what role do the Government have, along with other agencies, to encourage people to look at this whole issue of inequality and the lack of social mobility, not just through the economic and individual lenses of progress and that kind of thing—going up the chart—but through the kind of common values that create communities and mutuality, where there is a different way of handling the downs as well as the ups and you are not measuring yourself or crucifying yourself against the wrong criteria?
Certainly, the inner city renewal project that I am involved in will flourish only through mutuality. There is not enough money, resources or good jobs to lift all these people, but there is something in the human spirit that can deliver. Governments do not control the human spirit but I think that they can initiate partnerships, set benchmarks and give signals to challenge “the social, stupid”, which is about measuring individual achievement, and they can try to bat for mutuality.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for initiating this debate. Working for a fairer society and improving social mobility have long been at the heart of Liberal Democrat policies. We do not have a monopoly on that—and certainly mutuality would be something else that we would espouse. But being in coalition government has given us the opportunity to put forward measures and arguments which, as with today’s debate, resonate not only with our coalition partners but across political parties and well beyond.
As the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission highlighted in their excellent report, when one in six children—2.3 million children—are officially classified as poor, it extracts a high social price, and there is an economic price in wasted potential and lower growth. I shall concentrate my remarks on education and training for adult life, particularly for those whose start in life has been disadvantaged, and I acknowledge that women and girls can experience additional difficulties in the campaign for equality.
One of the forms of poverty that most severely hampers growth is poverty of aspiration. My noble friend Lord McNally spoke eloquently about aspiration. For those children whose experience has been limited and who know little of stable family life, or perhaps of the rewards and demands of working life, schools have a vital part to play in introducing them to the opportunities of the world of work. From an early age, children should understand the connections between school and work, between study and business, and between applying themselves and earning a living. Even at primary school, children’s imaginations can be captured by hearing about jobs and careers that they knew nothing about—and better still by visits to workplaces and meeting those genuinely enthusiastic about the work that they do. If this is important for children who enjoy academic learning, it is even more so for those who struggle with conventional lessons but who may have practical skills and talents that are not immediately valued, especially in league tables in a school environment.
Having worked for years on vocational qualifications for City & Guilds, I have seen how pupils can blossom when the curriculum gives them a chance to shine. I had been a classroom teacher, and I recall visiting schools that offer prevocational qualifications. The enthusiasm of the students was contagious as they applied themselves to mending car engines, caring for babies, planning and cooking meals—the very young people, as the schools told me, who had been demotivated and disruptive in academic lessons. They were acquiring not only skills but confidence and self-respect, which is much more likely to happen with good careers advice. One of the report’s recommendations was to urge the Government to improve resources for careers advice, a call that we are now hearing from all sides. I shall not task my noble friend the Minister with committing to this, but I hope that the Department for Education and Skills can be persuaded of the importance of careers education even given all the constraints on public spending and indeed, on the school timetable.
As my noble friend Lady Eaton said, we all welcome the increase in apprenticeships as a valid alternative to university, a true aid to social mobility. In a statement last March, the Government announced:
“We are extending apprenticeships to higher level skills and into the professions like insurance, accountancy and the law”.—[Official Report, 14/3/13; col. 400.]
Many of us are probably old enough to remember the days when professions had direct routes from school which were as highly regarded as graduate entry and led to careers that could be just as successful. For many young people, learning at work is more in line with their culture and ambitions, and we look forward to expansion of these routes into more professions and the end of inequalities between academic and practical attainment. As the commission recommends, non-graduate routes should become the norm across the professions.
Finally, I pay tribute to youth organisations for the part that they play in social mobility. Organisations such as scouting and girl guiding and the cadet organisations, and a wide range of voluntary and community youth groups, provide invaluable services, particularly in more disadvantaged areas and give young people an opportunity to develop personal and social skills, take responsibility and gain confidence, and learn both self-respect and respect for others. With the uniformed organisations and schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, young people are faced with challenges; they learn how to manage risk and develop ways which, whatever their start in life, can lead to fulfilling and useful lives. We cannot afford to squander the talents of any of our people, but I would submit that it is not just government that has a key role. All of us as members of society can play our part in helping young and old to fulfil their potential, realise aspirations and build a fairer society.
My Lords, I want to take my noble friend Lord McFall’s question seriously and ask: what is the relationship between inequality and social mobility? There are often problems when a technical concept enters popular and political discourse, and that has certainly been the case with the notion of social mobility. There are many misunderstandings about it. If one does not sort them out, it is almost impossible to make proper policy.
For example, the idea has taken hold that there has been a serious decline in social mobility over the past three or four decades. To quote the Observer, social mobility “has ground to a halt”. It was this concern that prompted the Milburn report and a range of other publications. However, there are two problems with this view. First, it seems to be substantially false. It has been subjected to a powerful critique from John Goldthorpe and his colleagues at the University of Oxford. Secondly—I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for being an academic about this but it is essential—the current discussion of social mobility fails to grasp the crucial distinction which sociologists make between absolute and relative mobility. We cannot understand current patterns of mobility if we do not grasp that notion. It is an essential distinction to make.
Absolute mobility refers to the proportion of people from specific class backgrounds who move upwards: in other words, the number of people who move upwards. Relative social mobility is a very different notion. It is the one that many people equate with social mobility, but that is wrong. Relative social mobility means the chances of individuals becoming mobile. In other words, it is a measure of social fluidity. It refers, if you like, to some individuals succeeding at the expense of others. It means that if there are high levels of relative upward mobility, there must be high levels of downward mobility as well. They are two very different notions and we have to sort them out.
The results of Goldthorpe's work are interesting and instructive for policy. They show that rates of absolute mobility from one generation to another across the 20th century in the UK and elsewhere have actually been quite high and remain high. The reason is simple: there has been an expansion of white-collar and professional occupations at the expense of less skilled manual jobs. The main reason for the apparent fluidity of our society is that structural change has produced a lot more opportunities at the top. Goldthorpe also shows, interestingly, that relative mobility has remained static across that period. In other words, contrary to what one might assume, the UK did not become a more fluid society over the past 40 or 50 years; there was not more fluidity and movement. Almost all the movement was upward mobility going into the jobs that were created.
Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, described, individual capacities make a difference as to who gets into those positions. However, the dominant feature is structural mobility over that period not, if you like, a more just or equal society.
Obviously, that does not mean that the plethora of policies contained in the Milburn report are without value but, as Goldthorpe says, no matter how gratifying those policies may be, politically their impact is likely to be quite limited. He is right to say that. In other words, more advantaged groups are often able to draw on their resources to negate the policies introduced with the best of intentions for introducing more relative mobility. That is a serious issue for such policies. For example, you might introduce a policy to help kids from an inner-city school to get into a higher level of the system, but middle-class parents can easily mobilise to negate that because they are not stupid and they know what is going on, too. So there is a powerful dialectic in all of this.
The conclusion that I draw is similar to Goldthorpe’s conclusion, which is that we must place the emphasis on equality rather than mobility. Social mobility in everyday talk these days functions as a kind of relatively seemingly painless equivalent for equality. As the noble Lord, Lord McFall, stressed, equality comes first because without greater equality we cannot improve social mobility. Equality not only trumps mobility, it is the main source of achievement. I do not see what policies the Government have for limiting the structural inequalities that were so well defined in the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord McFall.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for securing this vital debate. From listening to today’s debate and to wider debates in the area, it is sometimes tempting to think that there is a singular causal connection between these two worrying economic trends—growing income inequality and slowing social mobility. I suspect that the truth is not so simple. There is a significant body of research suggesting that rising inequality and lower social mobility are both symptoms of the same condition. This condition, as we heard so eloquently from the noble Lord, Lord Giddens—I do not pretend to have his academic background—is what is sometimes called the hollowing out of the labour market. Increasingly the UK labour market is characterised by very high-skill, high-wage jobs on the one hand and low-skill, low-wage jobs on the other. This is having a major impact on feelings of fairness and social cohesion. For the record, yes I think that the widening gap between the rich and the poor really matters.
In the light of this fact about our labour market, I would like to focus today on the role that education plays in creating greater equality of opportunity. This is not because I do not think that certain economic measures can improve income equality. In fact, I believe that things such as raising the minimum wage and encouraging employers to pay a living wage, which is something I support very strongly, could make a significant difference. I want to focus on education because, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, it is only through education that we can truly tackle the pernicious problem of intergenerational social mobility. As the Save the Children’s briefing for this debate highlighted, the top performing countries on international educational comparisons—Hong Kong, Canada, and Japan—all have a comparatively low correlation between the socioeconomic status of a child’s parents and his or her performance in school. Therefore, if we are going to improve our education system to meet the highest international standards, which we must, we have to meet the challenge of improving inter-generational mobility head on.
Through my work as the vice-chair of the All-Party Group on Social Mobility, I have come to the conclusion that any social mobility strategy needs to have the following primary goal: continuously evaluating and improving our education system to ensure that all children develop the skills necessary to succeed in a demanding and changing labour market. This means investing to improve the quality of education that underprivileged children receive throughout their lives. Given that privileged children continue to enjoy disproportionately high access to a good education it should be no surprise that a person’s ability to get on in today’s jobs market is strongly correlated with the resources enjoyed by his or her parents. This lack of intergenerational mobility will continue unless we make a commitment to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality education. I think that state sector education should be as good as, if not better than education in the independent sector. Importantly, this equality of access refers not only to education during the school years, but early years education, further education and higher education. I would say that further education is often neglected in these debates.
I shall refer briefly, as did the noble Lord, Lord McFall, to the 2010 OECD report on income inequality. That report made clear that one of the best ways for developed nations to improve their overall rate of social mobility is by lengthening at both ends the portion of a child’s life that he or she spends learning, regardless of his or her parents’ income level. Today, access to high-quality early years education as well as higher education is still disproportionately enjoyed by those on the higher end of the income spectrum. This must change if we are to see any improvement in the overall level of social mobility.
Lengthening the time that every person spends in education will ultimately help more people be more qualified for better jobs. Employers are increasingly looking for employees with technological literacy, advanced foreign language skills and other key qualifications for a career in the 21st century. At the same time, employers are looking for certain character and resilience traits. They want people who do not get discouraged when the going gets tough, who can bounce back, who can work in teams and build meaningful relationships. These soft skills—or non-cognitive skills—are crucial to social mobility and should feature far more prominently among our educational priorities, particularly in the early years. The evidence shows how important this is.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Eaton for mentioning that, next week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility will publish a major manifesto on character and resilience, and I hope that there will be an opportunity to debate it.
My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord McFall for tabling this Question for Short Debate. It has enabled an excellent opportunity for us to discuss this important subject.
The 2013 report of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is, in part, sombre and depressing reading. Despite being one of the richest countries in the world, and becoming richer, we have struggled to become fairer. As my noble friend Lord McFall pointed out, the UK is now ranked 28th out of 34 countries in the OECD equality table.
In this short debate it will not be possible to make all the points and put all the questions to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that I wish to. However, I have a few points to make and a few questions. I do not expect to get all the answers today but I would like a commitment from the Minister to write to me after the debate and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
The figures on child poverty are there for us all to see. By making a real effort to tackle the causes of child poverty, we could create a tangible boost to the economy by as much as twice the cost that we are paying for child poverty today. The achievement of lower child poverty and higher social mobility comes back to universal affordable child care, higher quality jobs, fair access to higher education, work incentives that encourage employment and tackling income inequality. There is plenty of evidence out there that if we were fairer as a nation we would all be better off.
I support initiatives such as breakfast clubs and universal free school meals to help children. They would ensure that children had a hot meal inside them and were able to learn better. I commend the report of the inquiry by the London Assembly, chaired by my friend, Fiona Twycross AM. The report is entitled A Zero Hunger City and has the backing of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. It makes many recommendations, including working with partners to establish sustainable breakfast clubs in London; lobbying the Government to agree with the London Food Board to identify models for providing universal free school meals for all schoolchildren; monitoring risk factors for food poverty, including welfare reform; school plans to identify and address hunger throughout the school day; and support for families in food poverty.
The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, made some excellent points about resilience and people working to achieve their goals despite what life throws at them. I agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he spoke about growing up and being lucky. I am a little younger than the noble Lord but we also did not have a great deal of money and my parents had to have second jobs to pay the bills and make ends meet. They arrived in this country in the 1950s as immigrants from Ireland. However, I lived in a stable family on a safe council estate in Southwark. I was always encouraged and supported and I am lucky to have had that.
I have always been of the opinion that going to work was good for people. We must have in place measures to make work pay and to deal with low pay. It is most regrettable that the UK remains at the wrong end of the international league table on wages, with more than one in five full-time workers classified as low-paid. Those most at risk of being low-paid are young, female, low-skilled workers in temporary or part-time work, often in the hospitality, retail or care sectors. Given this and the imbalance in the growth of the economy, things can be very tough in some parts of the regions and nations of this country. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, also made a point about his visit to Leicester. That reminded me of a conversation that I had with my noble friend Lord Donoughue, who told me that he had gone back to where he had grown up and met people who had not worked in three generations. That is something that we have to address; that cannot be right.
Many times in the Grand Committee and in the Chamber of the House of Lords we have talked about reducing the deficit. There is no arguing about that—we have to reduce it. However, it is unfair for the lowest earning fifth of households to make a larger contribution than any other group than the top 20%, both as a proportion as their incomes and in absolute terms, with low-income families, and especially lone parents, losing out by more than their peers as a proportion of their net income. The fact is that we are a divided country; there are haves and have-nots. Because we are not fairer, we all lose out and, in particular, some people never get the chance to develop, let alone to realise their true potential.
Have the Government looked at the London Assembly report, A Zero Hunger City? What did they think of it—and, if they have not looked at it, will they look at it? In reducing the deficit, as we come to the last part of this Parliament, what are they going to do to make the debt reduction programme fairer for all? It appears likely at present that the Government will not meet their 2020 targets on child poverty. What is the plan to get that back on track? What are we going to do to make work pay in more cases than at present, and what examples are the Government setting on making work pay? Is the living wage the answer? What government departments and agencies pay the living wage, and do the companies that they contract do so? What do they say to business about making work pay for employees? He may not reply to all those points today, but if he could write to me I would appreciate it. I thank my noble friend for this debate.
My Lords, this has been an invaluable debate. I was reading the debate that we had under the leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, some six months ago, and I hope that we shall have another one in another six months’ time because there are some really serious issues that we all have to struggle with.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, compared the British position to the American position. I recognise the comparison but I also recognise the differences. The American Administration are not attempting to push through a social mobility strategy as we are doing. Indeed, the inequalities in the United States, in economic and other terms, are much wider than they are in Britain. At least we have a consensus across all parties in Britain that we have to tackle what has been a long-term problem with a long-term response. The noble Lord mentioned the former Prime Minister John Major as well as Harold Macmillan; this issue has developed over the past 25 to 30 years and it will take 25 to 30 years to cope with it, against the headwinds of continuing economic and technological changes, both within Britain and abroad. After all, it is partly a result of global economic trends, with the collapse of the old mass-manufacturing industry that supported the skilled working class in stable working-class communities, with the institutions that held those communities together, such as the chapel, the trade union and the Workers’ Educational Association—a co-operative, heaven knows—which have also decayed with the decay of the economic structures that held them all together. I see the right reverend Prelate nodding. I can say from the point of view of West Yorkshire that the church has survived more successfully than many of the non-conformist churches in some of those areas, and I am very grateful for that.
The time when those organisations were dominant was a time when mobility was lower than it was later, for the reasons that I mentioned.
Yes, there was selective mobility, and that is part of the issue that we have. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, talked about her father and her grandmother. My parents-in-law were the youngest in a working class family and their eldest brothers and sisters paid for them to stay at school through Bradford grammar school and university. There was in those years very small-scale social mobility for a small minority of the bright poor who got out, so to speak.
That is much more like it.
Precisely. Britain’s situation also reflects the historic anomaly, of which I am very conscious as I have just come from a meeting of the advisory board on the centenary of World War I and have been reading into early 20th century history, that we have much more continuity of social structures over the past 150 years than many of our comparators. We still have the structure of private schools, which supported the Empire. We still have an unelected House of Lords. We still have a social hierarchy which is remarkably resistant to change, whereas in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and, to some extent, also in France and Italy those old structures were swept away, which made it easier to have a more mobile and mutually respecting society.
The coalition Government’s social mobility agenda is something which we see as a cross-party, cross-government exercise, and it starts from the assumption that there has to be a partnership between economy, society and state—we have to get all those things in balance. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that we shall be working on that against a number of very difficult global economic trends and against the challenge of the next round of economic and technological change, which may well sweep away a very large number of basic white-collar jobs, thus raising all sorts of issues about moving towards a society in which there are a number of extremely successful, very well paid people and, at the other end, a number of poorly paid, poorly skilled people. Dealing with that will take quite a lot of effort in our turn.
I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that when I was an undergraduate, my most inspirational teacher was a graduate student called John Goldthorpe, so I have a great deal of respect for everything that John has written and continues to write. However, as the noble Lord knows well, perfect equality is not achievable; a reduction in the degree of inequality is. That is, after all, what a liberal society should attempt to work for. This Government are mounting an attack on tax avoidance. We face the problem of what I have to call the rootless rich, who have escaped the boundaries of nation states and thus managed extremely successfully to avoid tax. We need taxes on wealth, which is much less mobile than income. At the bottom, we have increased the threshold at which people start to pay income tax. There is the move towards universal credit and in encouraging more people into work. We are extremely happy that the level of youth unemployment is now on a downward trend, and we are doing as much as we can to ensure that that continues.
International economic trends help us. The Financial Times had an interesting article yesterday which suggested that there is now a downward trend in excessive executive salaries after the excesses of the past 20 years. We are affected by what is happening elsewhere, and we have to push very hard to provide for our own deeply interdependent society as much of a social compact in the global economy as we can. I worry about the impact on British society and the British economy of the influx of the super-wealthy from non-democratic states. That ought to be of concern, particularly to all those who live in London and the south-east of England.
We have now reached the stage where we all realise that the state cannot deal with a problem like that alone; the state cannot provide everything and our taxpayers are unwilling to pay for much more of what is needed. They want the services, but they are deeply resistant to higher taxation, so we have to talk about the role of independent social initiatives—what I still like to call the big society—the role of local communities and local action. Incidentally, we have to think about planning and building communities which hang together. Living in Saltaire, which is a very dense village where it is impossible not to know your neighbours, and having canvassed when I was the local candidate for Shipley in a number of the new housing estates where you do not know your neighbours, the husband has gone out in the only family car and the wife is marooned on her own, I am very conscious that the way in which we build communities in Britain also deserves a great deal more attention. We need more local government and local engagement and, as we have said about other areas, we need to persuade more of the young to vote and become engaged, because we know that all our political parties are pooled towards supporting the old and not putting enough money into the young.
On equality of education, the Government are now extending the pupil premium. In September 2014 we will extend 15 free hours of high-quality early education to 40% of two year-olds—not an easy task when at the same time the number of two year-olds is rising quite sharply. We inherited Teach First from our predecessor Labour Government and we have continued to expand it. The Teach First teachers that I have seen in various schools in West Yorkshire are absolutely first-class. We all know from what the All-Party Group on Social Mobility has said that raising the quality of teaching is a very important part of all this. Intergenerational equity, putting more money into children at the early stage, is very much part of what we need to do.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, also mentioned the professions. I have to say that the figures on professions are deeply worrying, and I hope that whichever Government come in next time will look in particular at the question of recruitment into the legal profession as the one that sticks out most strongly as an inherited one.
Aspiration, character and resilience are clearly extremely important; I think that we have all now gripped that. Providing children with a sense of self-worth through school, careers guidance, music, sports, volunteering and mentoring is important. I am an extremely strong supporter of the National Citizen Service; I am about to ask the Cabinet Office whether it will be willing to provide an introduction to the NCS to any Member of the House of Lords who would like to see it, because I became enthusiastic when I had seen one or two courses myself. Through partnership with business, the Government now have a business compact. The Deputy Prime Minister has just given Opening Doors awards to a number of businesses that have been extremely good at pulling people into work. Apprenticeships are important, and I have to say that the apprentice that we had in the Government Whips’ Office was a classic example—a young woman who had been a hairdresser, and had not thought that she could be anything else, who blossomed in the six months that she was with us. All these things help to give young people a greater sense that they can do things. That is a very large agenda.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said, we have to be careful to get beyond the idea that it is all about everyone getting to the top. The importance of the apprenticeship schemes, which I am extremely proud of this Government expanding, is that they are giving a number of young people a sense of self-worth in craft skills. That is a revival of an old mutuality of respect that we clearly need to do. Unfortunately, we cannot provide the independent business that also used to be part of the business of respect. I come from four different families and my great-grandparents were all small shopkeepers, so I am incredibly petty bourgeois. The mutuality of respect is part of what we all now need to rebuild.
We are out of time but we could have debated this for a great deal longer. I thank the noble Lord for raising this issue, and I repeat: I hope that we will continue to address this subject as a very broad long-term issue for this country over the years to come.
Committee adjourned at 4.59 pm.