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Grand Committee

Volume 829: debated on Monday 17 April 2023

Grand Committee

Monday 17 April 2023

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, if, as I am told is likely, there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bell rings and resume after 10 minutes.

Public Transport in Towns and Cities

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the Built Environment Committee Public Transport in Towns and Cities (1st Report, HL Paper 89).

My Lords, in rising to move this Motion, I start by paying tribute to my predecessor as chairman of the committee, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, who in fact chaired it during almost the entire period when the evidence was being taken that resulted in this report. Any credit due to the chairing skills involved in producing the report must therefore accrue to her and not me. I also put on record the committee’s thanks to its specialist adviser, Dr Simon Blainey, and to its clerk at the time, Dee Goddard, and her team. Dee left the service of the House shortly afterwards in order to relocate with her family to Yorkshire. She and her whole team were wonderful in supporting us as we did our work. It is also very good to see so many current and former members of the committee present and participating in this debate.

I am not proposing in these introductory remarks to give a comprehensive account of everything the report says, partly because it would take too long and partly because it would leave very little for other members of the committee to say, but we were all agreed on the importance of public transport in our towns and cities.

The Government gave a pledge when elected to bring public transport in towns and cities up to the standards in London. We understand that that is difficult, because London has a large amount of inherited infrastructure, particularly rail and underground, and a large concentration of people, but we wanted in preparing this report to see how the Government were doing. The brief answer is, not terribly well, but a large amount of that can, I think, be explained by the effects of the pandemic and in particular by an understandable fall during it in demand for public transport services, which has to some extent been sustained, so that demand now is lower than it was before. It looks as though that might continue for some time—nobody knows—but it presents a conundrum and a difficulty for the Government.

Let me come straight away to my remarks on one of the two topics I would like to focus on, which is buses. Buses provide two-thirds of public transport trips throughout the country and are vital in all our towns and cities. We know that passenger numbers grow if bus operators offer what is referred to in the business as a turn-up-and-go service: that is, a service of sufficient frequency—of about 10-minute intervals—so that passengers do not have to consult a timetable before they leave home or decide to catch a bus, and are confident that if they turn up at any particular time, they will not have to wait too long. After all, a 10-minute interval means an average wait of five minutes for anyone who is regularly using a service. A turn-up-and-go service therefore attracts passengers. However, the effect of falling passenger demand has in fact been a reduction in services.

I want to congratulate the Government on maintaining the support for the bus network that they provided during the pandemic and have continued to provide at a certain level since. We predicted that if that support did not continue beyond the end of this March—which, at the time of writing the report, is when it was due to end—there would be a 20% fall in bus passenger services. The Government continued their funding and that 20% fall has not occurred, but even so, newspaper reports tell us that there has been a 10% fall, and that is probably, in a sense, the new normal.

As a country, we deserve to have a serious discussion about buses. Here, I refer with some admiration to Ken Livingstone when he was Mayor of London, because he illustrates an approach that worked. Until the point when he became mayor, bus services had been in a state of decline in London; demand had been falling and services were not reliable. He succeeded in ramping up provision so that most buses were operating on a turn-up-and-go service. Demand rocketed and has been sustained at that level, although not recently during the pandemic. However, it came with a serious cost because the subsidy—that is, the difference between the fare income and the cost of operating the service—grew substantially. In his time, it was well on the way to £0.5 billion a year and is now considerably in excess of that. In large part, that was to do with the fact that the fares were set lower than was necessary. So in my view there is a trade-off between providing the sort of service that attracts passengers and a willingness to set fares at a rate that makes the subsidy manageable financially, which is obviously a consideration for the Government.

There is also the very sensitive subject of concessions. In London, approximately 40% of passengers were not paying a fare. There are, of course, statutory concessions for bus passengers—the Freedom Pass in London and the national bus pass scheme—but they are targeted largely at elderly people. A large number of voluntary and discretionary concessions have been granted that could be removed without amending the statute. At some point it is worth having a serious debate about how we are going to respond to the fall in demand, and perhaps today is the time to kick it off. Is it by cutting services, which in my view leads to a spiral of decline, or by ramping up services but controlling the subsidy, as I am calling it, through a combination of fares and more limited concessions? These are hard topics to face, but they are serious ones if we are going to look forward and discuss public transport, and buses in particular, in towns and cities in the coming decade.

The second subject that I want to concentrate on—the restrictions being imposed on the use of private motor vehicles in towns and cities—led the committee down some paths of inquiry it had not particularly expected to follow. While passenger demand for public transport has fallen, demand from local authorities for new public transport infrastructure has been rising. To some extent, this has been encouraged by the Government making funding available. I will step out of my main stream of thought for a moment to say that one of the issues the committee raised was whether the funding system is fit for purpose: in other words, whether bidding for government money in a competitive environment produces the best outcomes. Is it the case—the committee thought it might be—that bidding processes reward local authorities that are large and good at bidding, rather than those with a fundamentally good case for new transport provision? That is a point on which the Minister may well want to comment.

Where does this demand for new investment and infrastructure come from? From talking to highways engineers and local councillors in various places that we visited, it appeared that a lot of it came from the fact that they had set targets for reducing the number of vehicle trips in towns and cities and wanted the money not only to build the public realm in a more pedestrian-friendly fashion but for the transport infrastructure that would substitute for people using their cars. A target of 20% or 30% is found almost universally. When we quizzed the Minister about this, she said that this was not a government or national target but entirely a local matter. However, we inquired into why all the localities tend to come to the same number.

Those of us with experience of local government know that a lot of policy development takes place on the basis of what academics in the field are saying and what the professional bodies that represent that particular branch of local authority officers are disseminating. We discovered that the academic world was pushing strongly for this 20% to 30% reduction, partly on the basis of meeting non-statutory interim targets for net zero and partly on the basis that, if all vehicles become electric and the pollution and air quality problems largely dissipate, we will not have enough electricity to run them. These people have a vision of towns and cities with much more public transport, much larger limitations on car use and limitations on car ownership, because the electricity simply will not be available to run them.

However, there has been no real discussion about this. The Minister’s point that this was not a national policy, which I obviously accept in good faith, was controverted for me when my attention was drawn, only a matter of days ago, to the newly published Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) Vision to 2030, which is by a national body that reports to the Department for Transport and thus to my noble friend. On page 11, one sees that part of its vision for 2030 is for:

“Half of all journeys in towns and cities to be made by walking or cycling”.

It makes it slightly more difficult for the Government to say that they do not have a national policy on this if one of their executive agencies so clearly does. It needs to be flushed out and discussed. Does it command the support that policymakers think it might? If it does, why are they so reluctant to discuss it in public? Some honesty and openness on this would be very helpful.

I will not go on much longer, except to say that other topics we discussed included post-project evaluation, which we think needs to be undertaken much more seriously and in a much more determined way. This was the subject in our reply from the Minister on which we detected the most stickiness and defensiveness from the department. It is really not very keen on post-project evaluation, but we will continue to press on that.

Finally, we had a number of recommendations that I can summarise as “How to make public transport more user-friendly”, thinking about it from the perspective of the passenger. Examples include ticketing and timetables, better information and more integration of services, which we think the Government need to take in hand. There is also the issue of our rather fractured local system, with local authorities being required to adopt an enhanced partnership or a franchising model with local bus providers, which can make the situation more difficult. With that, I shall bring my opening remarks to an end and beg to move.

My Lords, I confess to having joined the Built Environment Committee as this report on public transport was being finalised, so my input was, at best, minimal.

I am sure that most people in this Moses Room use public transport at some time. I certainly do while here in London; however, my experience as a resident of a semi-rural area in Yorkshire makes me a rather reluctant user of public transport. My train journey from King’s Cross to Leeds, taking approximately two hours and 15 minutes, is generally very convenient, but what most residents in London do not realise is that, for most people living outside London, getting to and from the start of a journey is the most inconvenient leg of that journey.

My inconvenient leg probably highlights a number of issues that this report raises. My nearest station is a good 40-minute walk away. I can reach a bus stop with reasonable ease, but the buses do not regularly follow a timetable and there is no real-time indicator available to let me know how long my wait will be. As I mentioned, the trains from King’s Cross to Leeds run efficiently but, on the return leg of my journey, I often reach Leeds at peak times. All local trains are standing room only, and it is almost a case of choosing whether there is room on the train for my luggage to travel or for me to travel. If I return to my local station late in the evening, I arrive at a very dark, deserted and unmanned station. It certainly does not feel safe or comfortable for a woman—or anyone, for that matter—travelling alone.

All my comments so far may seem very flippant; however, they are meant to illustrate just how important good transport systems are in our towns and cities. We all know of the need for a thriving economy and to encourage more people into employment or to return to employment. Ease of public transport is an essential element in this endeavour. Many of our major cities are increasingly unfriendly to cars—if anyone has tried to drive in the centre of Leeds lately, they will know exactly what I mean. These hugely important travel-to-work areas no longer make much provision for car use, so public transport has to be a satisfactory alternative. As Colin Clark said in the Town Planning Review as long ago as 1958, transport can be the

“maker and breaker of cities”.

Decarbonising the economy to reach net zero by 2050, adapting to the impact of a changing climate and achieving the 2030 sustainable development goals are, we are told, all crucial to the UK’s future economic and social prosperity. The public transport which helps to address these issues is a vital contributor to our future well-being.

Having spent 30 years representing five rural villages—some on remote moorland—on Bradford Metropolitan Council, I have concerns about appropriate public transport accessibility for such areas. I helped to instigate a “wheels to work” scheme for young people unable to reach FE colleges, apprenticeships and work because of the lack of appropriate public transport. The recommendation for local transport authorities to adopt either an enhanced partnership or a plan to establish a franchising scheme should contribute to alleviating this kind of problem. Also, the demand-responsive transport—DRT—trials taking place may show that this could also be of benefit in remote areas that are difficult to access. The BusMan Transport Consultancy has said:

“DRT has the potential to enable a public transport service to be provided in a sustainable way in small and medium-sized towns at times of lower demand”.

According to Transport Focus, a more open-data environment is needed to meet customer expectations. There is a role here for local authorities in managing data. Local and regional authorities can act as neutral protectors of sensitive data provided by operators. This will enable public authorities to ensure that appropriate data is available to planners of public transport services.

By 2050, one in four people will be over 65 and an ageing population will have an impact on the design and accessibility of public transport. Public transport will be key to the well-being of the elderly; without a reliable and suitable service, many elderly people could suffer from loneliness and isolation. Improving the safety of stations, bus stops and transport interchanges by ensuring that they are clean and well lit should be a priority for local and national government. Fear of unsafe places can deter the elderly and all vulnerable people from using public transport.

Local transport authorities have been expected to produce local transport plans every five years. In 2008, that requirement was removed, and 61% of authorities have not updated their plans since 2011. Those plans are clearly out of date and in many cases of no value. If new developments are to encourage public transport use, effective integration of land use and transport planning will be key. To help integrate transport and planning, the Government should link the production of local transport plans and local plans. Can my noble friend tell us whether that would be possible and whether there are plans for it to happen?

The report says:

“Public transport investment and objectives should focus on the factors which are most important to users: convenience, reliability, fares, punctuality, safety and frequency.”

If all the recommendations in the report were met, we would certainly have a world-class transport system.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness and speak in this debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for starting it off and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for finishing the report as chair. We also need to thank all those who gave evidence, written and oral. They were very interesting, long and useful pieces of evidence, which helped us come up with an extremely useful report—although I suppose that I would say that, would I not?

Let us be clear that public transport enables people to move around easily, quickly, safely and cheaply. It covers a whole age range—old and young, those going to school and college, as well as those with jobs and families. It affects everybody. How do we achieve that? The report speaks about the need for integration of modes and road space, which covers cars, deliveries, rail—suburban rail, anyway—buses and other means, such as scooters and things, which I shall come back to. But they need integrating in a way that includes allocation of space, costs and safety. I shall not say much about buses, because the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, spoke about them, and I spoke about them in a debate just before the recess.

On space on streets, I spent a day in Paris last week cycling on a green hire bike and I was amazed by the changes in that capital city over the past few years. Many noble Lords have probably been there in times past and know that trying to drive through Paris was a bit of a challenge, frankly. You never knew where you were going, who was going to hit you, who you were going to run over and everything else. It has changed completely. They have banned most scooters, which some people think is a good thing. There were too many before. But what I found so interesting was that van and car drivers gave way to pedestrians and cyclists without any hassle at all, and they all obeyed the traffic lights—which, again, does not always happen. The Parisian authorities have managed to educate mainly their drivers but scooter and cycle riders too, as well as pedestrians, to behave and work together.

I hope we could do this in future. I am sure that when she responds, the Minister will tell us that the legislation on electric scooters is imminent—even if she does not, I hope it is. As part of the legislation, I am convinced that there needs to be education here, not just in London but in many other cities, for cyclists, pedestrians and scooter drivers so that they all work together. It does not make much difference to the end result—you are still going to get there on time—but you will not have the hassle that we get at the moment.

There are examples in other cities as well, but the other issue is the cost of public transport, which the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, also mentioned. We have seen evidence of what is happening in Germany, with very low-fare season tickets, and just last week, another batch of season tickets covering regional trains and buses was announced. Austria and Switzerland have done the same. Apart from the benefits of simplicity and flexibility, there is the benefit of cost.

We have to understand that getting around the city—or villages, for that matter—is an essential part of life. Having buses cancelled outside London is really serious for people. We must recognise that many of us, as politicians, rightly set out our experience of travel, but many people cannot do what we do because they cannot afford it. They cannot afford a car or to get there by other means. Apart from the issues of poverty and shopping, there is getting a job. We need some regulation in the bus sector to support the continuation of the whole system, as noble Lords have mentioned, rather like we have on the railways. As the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said, many more people use buses than use railways, but we do not get the same policy input into them that we should.

Sadly, a vociferous minority of politicians and business leaders like to use their own motor transport to get around, and they would rather have extra road space for them, with the effects on charges, safety and pollution, than succumb more to what happened during the Covid restrictions, which I thought was a really good change to the use of road space.

I hope we can get back to a situation, that probably existed in some of our lifetimes, whereby many people cycled long distances to work because it was the only way to do it and it was cheap. Now, you would probably get run over before you got back after your first day at work.

I am very pleased to have been part of this report. We have said some good and useful things but it is only a start. In future, I would like discussion about scooters, bikes and walking—active travel, as we call it—and the changes that will happen to freight distribution in cities and elsewhere. We need to look at what happens in the countryside, because if people cannot get around, there are no buses and they are imprisoned in their own home, that is just as bad as anything else.

I think the committee—it is not for me to decide, but I shall make my arguments—has a long way to go, but we have started. This will be a very interesting debate and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, and the committee on their excellent report. The noble Lord’s emphasis on the importance of the bus and the level of fares charged, and the difficulties caused by the bidding process for investment, all struck me as extremely important.

Noble Lords will be aware that I was not a member of the committee, but I have a keen interest in public transport issues and serve as vice-chair of the city regions transport APPG. As I said, this report is excellent. It identifies a range of very important issues that need resolution, such as block grants, the need for the infrastructure levy to support affordable housing, the importance of franchising, the importance of young people under the age of 40 to ridership and fare income, the need for better understanding of user priorities, and—as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, mentioned—the turn-up-and-go principle, which is absolutely critical to the success of public transport services. There is also a need for co-ordinated timetabling between different modes of travel.

It is good that the Government agree with many of the recommendations, and I hope the necessary action will be forthcoming, but complex issues are sometimes dealt with rather superficially in their response. For example, in paragraph 114, on integrating transport planning with strategic planning, the Government are asked to link the production of local transport plans with local plans. The committee is absolutely right to recommend this. I went to my files and found the strategic transport plan produced four years ago by Transport for the North, but which is still current. The paragraph headed “Spatial planning” states that Transport for the North

“wants to build a collaborative and constructive relationship”

with the 72 planning authorities across the north to

“ensure that the right sustainable developments, spaces and places are unlocked and delivered across the North…to support Local Planning Authorities as they develop their local plans and strategies.”

The report goes on to say:

“The principle of joined-up planning for new homes and infrastructure has long been acknowledged at a national level and is mentioned as a key element of the Government’s Industrial Strategy”.

That was four years ago but the basic principles still apply, and it is absolutely fundamental. It is not enough for the Government simply to note the recommendation, as opposed to actively trying to do something about it.

The problem is that post-war planning policies—so over 60 years old—have encouraged out of town development, often aided by grant regimes to recover old industrial or brownfield land. It was understandable and was right at the time; however, journeys have become dependent on the availability of a car. Once purchased, it is often cheaper for a household to use that car than to take public transport. As the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, pointed out a moment ago, it can also often be faster. Shopping malls, retail parks and business parks, some very substantial, have led directly to increased car use. Journeys have become more complicated for individuals, particularly those going to work, who measure cost and time in reaching a decision as to what form of transport to use. Things were much simpler when most jobs were in city and town centres, but that is less the case now. We need to reverse the trend, hence the importance of integrating local transport planning with local plans. So, paragraph 114, which recommends joining them together, is central to the Government achieving some of the objectives the report has set.

The report tells us that 68% of commuter journeys were by car in 2019. This is not a surprise, given the nature of the journeys a lot of people have to make. The report also tells us that the Government would like to reduce car journeys by 30%. This will not happen unless money is forthcoming to invest in better public transport services, and more journeys go to town and city centres. That takes me to London.

The levelling-up White Paper promised London-style public transport, saying its ambition was for areas outside London to have services

“significantly closer to the standards of London”.

This will involve money, and it will require much greater local control through regulation. The committee report says that London has a £73 per capita subsidy for bus services, whereas the rest of England has only £27. I do not know whether these figures include the cost of concessionary travel, which accounts for one-third of all passenger journeys—the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, pointed out that it is 40% in London—but in practice, concessionary travel is a very important subsidy to keep buses on the roads across the country providing a service.

Whatever the facts are, more fare income needs to be generated and, as a start, it is key that transport planning is not disconnected from new housing development. As the report says,

“transport can be an afterthought”,

when it needs to be a central part of the planning process.

Finally, paragraph 138 states:

“An uncoordinated approach to public transport policymaking in Whitehall has left local areas with often irreconcilable targets”.

It would be so much better if local transport planning was devolved, with a block grant system, rather than being micromanaged out of Whitehall. That is the way to co-ordinated timetabling and putting users first. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to “hard topics” for debate, and I hope that the Government will engage with that.

My Lords, as a member of the Built Environment Committee, I pay tribute to our clerks; to our previous chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for her leadership; and to the current chair, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his stimulating overview of our report today. Like so many Select Committee outputs from your Lordships’ House, this report presents a cross-party, balanced, evidence-based case for sensible changes to current government policy.

I draw attention to the last of our committee’s five key recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, also drew attention to it. We recommended that the Government should formally link local transport plans with local authorities’ local plans covering new development across their areas. The committee found that transport planning and local planning were seldom sufficiently integrated, and, for example, homes were frequently being built without access to public transport.

In contrast to many other countries, our planning system does not have an objective of ensuring that additional housing is produced where the density of population will make public transport systems more viable. By opting for out-of-town new estates of low-rise houses—even if they are closely packed together—typical new developments in the UK create poorly served settlements which depend on private cars for journeys to work, school, shops and facilities. The Centre for Cities cited the comparison between Leeds and Marseille, which

“have a similar population, but 87 per cent of people can reach the centre of Marseille in 30 minutes by public transport, compared with 38 per cent in Leeds”—

well under half the amount in Marseille.

A 2018 report by Transport for New Homes reviewed 20 urban extensions and found that few were being built with links to public transport. As the Oxford University Commission on Creating Healthy Cities, which I was pleased to chair, noted in 2022:

“Local Planning Authorities have a key role in resisting applications for new developments on suburban greenfield sites that depend upon every house-hold owning at least one car”.

In the Built Environment Committee’s earlier report on meeting housing demand, we noted the opportunities to undertake major residential developments on land around railway stations, creating connections to city centres. It is obviously vastly better for the environment, and for meeting targets for net-zero carbon emissions, to plan for new housing estates to be linked by decent, regular bus services to the neighbouring towns and cities that provide facilities, shops and employment. Reliance on private cars takes us in the wrong direction for meeting climate change imperatives.

The West of England Combined Authority published a strategy last month stating that car use in the region needs to reduce by 40%—a huge drop—if net zero climate targets are to be met by 2030. Congested roads with their pollution from traffic are not only bad for the planet and for health and well-being but a waste of time and energy for commuters, contributing to poor productivity.

Car-dependent new housing estates also prohibit the creation of intergenerational communities. Older people who cannot or do not want to drive cannot live alongside younger households because there is no easy access to amenities—the GP’s surgery, pubs, parks, et cetera. The master planning of each development can make a difference too. For example, Derwenthorpe, on the east side of York, comprises 550 new homes, which are knitted into the fabric of the city through both active travel—an excellent Sustrans cycle lane—and public transport. The developer, the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, has worked with the local bus company to bring a regular service through the new estate to the city centre and to encourage the habit of using public transport and taking the bus. A free bus pass for one year has been offered to new residents and around one in 10 has made full use of this facility.

My favourite takeaway from this excellent committee report, therefore, is its conclusion that councils’ local plans—“local development plans” in the terms of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill—need to be formulated side by side with local transport plans. The Government responded to this recommendation by telling us that the Department for Transport is consulting on guidance setting out how transport authorities should engage proactively and positively with local planning authorities. Will the Minister update us on progress with this guidance?

New homes will be in the wrong places if public transport accessibility is overlooked and transport plans will miss opportunities for viable services if new housing developments are ignored. Bringing the two together will make for the healthy, environmentally friendly, age-friendly, productive and inclusive communities we all need. I commend the report.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak on this excellent report. I am very pleased to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Best, because he said all the things I would like to have said about the clerks, the support that we got in producing this report and the excellent work that our previous chairman, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, did. I also commend my noble friend Lord Moylan for an excellent introduction of the report. He covered many of the topics that we highlighted and emphasised what the Government need to take out of our report.

I want to concentrate on one aspect which my noble friend Lord Moylan touched on, which is buses. Buses are a critical part of transport, particularly in rural areas feeding into towns. Trains and trams are very important, but they cannot get passengers without buses to feed people on to them. As my noble friend said in the phrase “turn up and go”, for buses to work they have to be reliable and predictable. Buses also have to be safe and affordable. It probably goes without saying that there are two ways of funding buses: one is subsidy and the other is fares. It is a movable feast depending on passengers’ use of buses. In other words, the load on the buses will determine how much subsidy is required.

Looking at reliability is critical for buses. The purpose of encouraging buses is to get people not to use their motor car. If you are going to get people not to use their motor car, they must have certainty that a bus will turn up when they get to the bus stop and certainty that it will get them to the end of their journey at a predictable time. This is a very serious problem with buses and for a lot of transport generally that uses roads. One thing that our report showed up was a big issue about space allocation on roads. For instance, we took some evidence from the Oxford Bus Company, which said that, because of the aggressive introduction of cycle lanes, buses are forced to go into the general traffic, with passenger cars and commercial vehicles, with great consequential delays to the bus service. It is important that we have a debate and that the Government look seriously at the allocation of road space for things such as cycle lanes, which may be virtuous in themselves but cause knock-on effects deleterious to the wider good for public transport. If cycle lanes are put in the wrong place and take up too much road space, they can cause very serious problems.

The other aspect I wanted to touch on is safety, which is a very difficult problem. One reason that people do not use buses, particularly late at night, is a fear that the buses will not be a welcoming environment and may well be positively hostile. It is not a question of whether the statistics of the number of attacks on buses is small, as indeed it is; it is a question of whether people fear that they may be subject to an attack. It can be about the perception of the difficulties of riding in a bus safely. That is particularly a problem for female passengers travelling on buses late at night. It encourages car and taxi use and prevents people using buses and, indeed, trains. We need to find a solution to that.

One solution, obviously, would be to reintroduce conductors to buses, which would be massively expensive. Another solution is to stop putting the drivers into protected cabins at the front of buses, where they are protected from being robbed or attacked but are then unable to protect the other passengers on the bus. It is a very difficult problem but it must be overcome—and overcome in a way that gets the confidence of potential bus users.

I think our report is very good and we have highlighted a lot of problems. One thing we have identified is that, if we are to sort out the public transport problems in towns and cities, it will be extremely complex and no single solution will be appropriate for the whole country. I support my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, in saying that these decisions must be taken on a local basis, and we must trust local authorities to co-ordinate transport and make sure that it is appropriate to their local needs.

My Lords, I declare my railway interests that are relevant to this debate: I chair the Great Western Railway stakeholder advisory board and the North Cotswold Line Task Force, and I am president of the Cotswold Line Promotion Group. I am a new member of the Built Environment Committee, so did not take part in the inquiry whose report was published in November. I congratulate the committee on its excellent report and its new chair, the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, on introducing this debate so eloquently.

I support the report’s conclusions and recommendations, particularly those relating to bus services, which are of such importance to those in rural areas with no or limited access to private cars. I also support the call made in paragraph 132 for a clear statement from the Government on their policy on journeys made by car. There are many contradictions in national policy relating to car usage, and I endorse the evidence quoted in paragraph 128 from the Local Government Association stating that:

“Government ambitions about increasing public transport use make little sense when HM Treasury freezes fuel duty every year and cuts funding to public transport”,

and that from the Martin Higginson Transport Research & Consultancy, which states:

“A significant barrier is the unwillingness of governments, both central and local, to commit to policies that constrain car use”.

The briefing supplied to noble Lords for this debate by the Institution of Civil Engineers states:

“In the UK, transport is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions—27 per cent of the UK’s total in 2019—deriving primarily from petrol and diesel use in road transport. Passengers and freight need to switch to lower-carbon transport modes at an acceptable cost to the taxpayer, meaning the UK’s public transport networks will need to provide more journeys and carry more passengers in the future”.

I will concentrate on the North Cotswold Line Task Force. It is a well-established partnership of five shire counties, under differing political control and outside any mayoral combined authority. It brings together planning of housing growth and transport and has real track records in innovation and investment in railway services and infrastructure. Worcestershire, which leads the task force, opened Worcestershire Parkway station in 2020, weeks before the lockdown, having made the case for the station, sorted out its funding and delivered it on a third-party basis, working with the rail industry but managing the whole project itself. Its location as an interchange between the Birmingham to Bristol and Herefordshire/Worcestershire to Oxford-Cambridge arc and London lines has proven very popular. It has attracted the interest of both the Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect in the North Cotswold Line corridor. Within three years of opening, despite the lockdown, around 800 passengers are using it every day. The original forecast said that it would take 10 years to reach those numbers.

The experience of Parkway suggests that we would be unwise to plan for a permanently depleted market for travel. Leisure travel on the line is now at higher levels than before Covid. It is a vivid example of bringing together transport and housing planning. Some 10,000 new homes are to be built around the station in the next 20 years—a new garden town of around 25,000 people. Developers recognise how railway connectivity and modern, accessible stations are really attractive to our growing and increasingly environmentally aware population.

However, many of the “brick walls” that the committee’s report highlights still exist, despite achievements such as this. The task force’s local authorities have put their hands in their own pockets to develop the case for more frequent services on the Worcestershire-Oxford-London line to support the delivery of 50,000 homes for more than 120,000 people across the route. To sustain a higher level of service, as the Minister knows, will require the restoration of two short lengths of double track. Ministerial engagement has been positive, we have strong cross-party support from MPs along the line and we receive helpful advice from GWR and Network Rail.

The committee’s highlighting of costly competitive bidding is also a problem understood by task force authorities, which have committed significantly to levelling up fund and new stations fund applications. I strongly support the committee’s proposition for alternative blocks of funding, avoiding the inevitable wastefulness of public bodies competing for public funding.

What we need is a DfT/Network Rail partnership—or Great British Railways when it is formally in place—that wants to work with motivated local authorities which will get on with good projects themselves if DfT and Network Rail engage closely and offer positive support to well-constructed cases.

Successful schemes have happened elsewhere with direct DfT support, such as the splendid Okehampton line in Devon. For the task force local authorities, much better rail transport is essential to the sustainability of the sheer scale of housing growth they need to deliver. They have brought their local plans and transport thinking together and, as I said, they have financed and delivered major rail enhancements themselves.

In November 2021, the then Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, supported the task force progressing to the second industry stage—the outline business case—for its higher frequency service, with the task force local authorities fully funding and bearing risk on the scheme. In March 2022, DfT officials said that its team could not engage further with the task force until the updated rail network enhancements pipeline was announced. The original pipeline was first set out in October 2019 but has not been updated since; as I understand it, there is no planned date for the update, published in the new year.

We need to move forward now, and as it is some time since we have had a chance to discuss the project with Ministers, my request to the noble Baroness this afternoon is to agree to a meeting with members of the task force board and our Members of Parliament.

My Lords, it has been my great privilege to serve on the Built Environment Committee during the period when this subject was considered. I add my appreciation of and thanks to our former and present chairman and our erstwhile clerk, Dee Goddard, and for the briefing that was issued just in the past few days. For those of us who find their grey matter displaced by the jumble of things added subsequent to a report such as this, it is very helpful to have that prompt. Much of the content to which I would have referred has been covered by others, and I am satisfied that the relevant material is more than adequately contained within the report, which I believe speaks for itself.

The report identifies a series of worthy and sometimes inspirational initiatives, with what I think would be generally accepted as Transport for London’s example being the gold standard, but we have been subjected to what might be called exceptional circumstances. There are not only the normal constraints—perhaps now the additional constraints—on public spending but the disruption to and changes in consumer usage caused by the Covid pandemic, with lasting effects on matters such as commuting, whether people attend their place of work full-time or part-time and what that means for land use and the applicable facilities. I do not forget that this is also accelerated by squeezed household budgets and the impact of daily commuting as a net-of-tax cost on people’s income. Nor do I overlook the fact that commuting travel time is often neither enjoyable leisure nor gainful work.

We also showed that the command structure is to a degree fragmented and is not monitoring outcomes adequately. Different departments operate in different sectors. Decisions may be made at departmental level, but with the onus for delivery and taking risk devolved to local government—never mind that it has fewer resources—and, in turn, to commercial transport providers. There are gaps in accountability between control of resources, responsibility for action and the concurrent duty to take action. Each segment has its own priorities, whether they be political, public finance, planning, operational risk and so on. The absence of integration between land use and planning, mentioned by so many other noble Lords, is extremely concerning, given the obvious synergies.

I mention just one thing on bus transport in particular. Bus is one of those things that provides the opportunity to vary it to an almost infinite degree: it is not set on rails, it is by and large not attached to cables, and it is capable of adapting, both by the nature of the vehicle and the frequency and position of stops, in ways that most other forms of public transport cannot meet. It should therefore be the initial, and possibly the interim, mode of choice in changing circumstances, particularly changing environments, and especially when we are talking about changes in development patterns within urban areas.

Funding is not always evenly applied or secure over time. Sometimes, it looks as if there is a poor understanding of likely outcomes. There is a need for long-term, consistent, durable and continuous progress towards broadly common goals and an understanding of what good practice in transport looks like. If policies are too narrowly focused or shorter term than the time horizons of the project development and rollout, the result is dented commitment, lack of trust, user disaffection and, ultimately, lack of investment necessary to carry it all forward. I am satisfied that a more holistic approach—if noble Lords will excuse that overused term—is necessary.

Scheme participation procedures that are overcomplex or require expensive bidding processes are rightly regarded with suspicion and deter participants on cost alone. Funding streams that are proposed but which may be turned off at critical stages are also unattractive. Scheme architecture combined with responsibility for the policy, funding, delivery and outcomes—including that very necessary post-project evaluation—are key to this, along with slicker ways of ticketing and improvement of the customer experience. These cannot be left to chance and should not be the subject of a bewildering array of different local schemes, as if every city in the land were some sort of foreign jurisdiction, or indulged in a bidding war for too few resources. For users, relearning car parking ticket technology or public transport ticketing for each municipality is a nightmare and should not be an acceptable outcome in this modern world.

I will leave it there, but it should be said that this is, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, work in progress. It has been a privilege to be involved in this matter, but I would just say that a less defensive and slightly more inclusive approach to discussions would be helpful, especially in the knowledge that there may not be one perfect solution to the matters that we have to deal with.

My Lords, I compliment all my colleagues who have contributed, particularly those who sat on the committee during the preparation of this report.

The most important recommendation that we put forward—reference has been made to it already—is in paragraph 116:

“the Government should formally link the production of Local Transport Plans with Local Plans”.

Yes indeed, I have to say. I have come to believe over the passage of 60 years that the commission report prepared under the chairmanship of Sir John Redcliffe-Maud was right. We are beginning to see the advantages of city regions. If the balance throughout our country is to be right, we need to have powerful authorities, whether we achieve them by saying that we are levelling up or by the twin of that, handing down. They will be in the best position in planning and construction. They will have the resources to ensure that they are advised to the highest level. They can raise standards and ensure the importance of place, space and design.

These large authorities will have transport issues. We all understand why the use of cars is to be discouraged, in terms of health, climate change and, to some extent, congestion, but we should always remember that the alternative has to be good, otherwise we are taking away an instrument of freedom of choice from those many hundreds of thousands of people who say, “Let’s just get into the car and go out somewhere for a nice day”. If you take that away, you have to find some alternative way in which to ensure that they can take advantage of the facilities in their orbit.

Trains, trams and buses can all play a part in finding the right mix for getting people from outside cities and towns into them for marketing or pleasure purposes. The experiment that impressed me most—and colleagues will know that I spoke about it a great deal—was what we were shown about very light transport. It is being developed by Coventry City Council with the help of Warwick University. It means that the cost of laying track for those vehicles is slashed to something like £10,000 per kilometre rather than £50,000. It could be a game-changer.

What I would like to see is the Government of the day talking to the regions about their ideas. I would like to think that there would be independent people there, be they top civil servants or people who have been in the building industry for a long time and have an objective perspective on these matters, so that the plan, including transport, can be perfected over a period of time. There would be a contract, if you like, between the Government of the day and the authorities concerned, so ideas may be borrowed from one place’s plan for another. One begins to see how these things can be done to overcome the worries that we have had about certain matters.

There are other ingredients to put into the pot, as it were, if we are to get this right for the future. We have had, since the report was concluded, the ideas on autonomous cars and how we will deal with that. There will be air taxis and vertiports, perhaps mostly for the transfer by drones of minor freight—and the growth, it seems without correction, of the use of e-scooters. I really begin to worry when I see reports appear in the papers of a league table of the number of injuries and deaths caused by the clash between them and pedestrians. I do not want to spoil anybody’s pleasure, but we have to watch this particular development, otherwise we will face considerable risk.

Let us see hope in public transport being developed and taking people from where they are living in a new development and from their new homes to where they work. All those things can be dealt with by public transport, if there is intelligent planning. Let us call on those who have the skills in planning, construction and financing major developments and try to ensure that we will have a better future. We have been grumbling in the committee about what has happened in the past and worrying about some of those difficulties that have been aired again today. That is the pattern that I see—that we really need the big players throughout the country to level up to the Government and to their neighbours and so on, so that we have the best and safest transport systems in the modern world.

My Lords, I happily add my thanks to our two chairs; to our secretariat, who have been splendid over the period of the production of this report; and to my colleagues on the committee, who came from varied backgrounds. What a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst. I never thought that I would hear the 60 year-old report of Lord Redcliffe-Maud referred to but, like the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, I can remember it. It was a splendid report.

The possible scope of this report was enormous. It could have ranged—it has to a degree—from e-scooters to HS2. I will just concentrate on two things. One is London versus the rest, if I can put it in those terms, and the other is the variety of provision in cities of similar size and with similar challenges, in many respects.

On London versus the rest, the Government kindly referred us to the significance of this comparison in their response to our report. They said that, in their levelling-up White Paper,

“the Government set itself the mission of, by 2030, bringing standards of local public transport connectivity across the country closer to those of London”.

I give them full marks for ambition, but we need to test how they cope as they go along. Of course, we all recognise that London has unique characteristics in the provision of public transport, the size and reach of the area and so on, but still, these figures need to be put on the record.

The expenditure-per-head figures for 2019-20 are as follows—they are pre-pandemic, so perhaps not distorted by some of the pandemic factors. For London, it was £882 per head. The next largest region was the south-east, with more than £500 per head. The lowest was the east Midlands, at £300 per head. The average for all regions outside London was £489, which means that London is spending nearly double the amount of any other region in the country. Work that one out, Sherlock. It is not difficult to deduce from that that services in London are better than elsewhere.

What a civic or regional leader would give to have their expenditure availability for public transport doubled—it would have something of an impact, however competent or otherwise the leaders or the regions may be. I simply must ask the Government: how is their ambition progressing towards the deadline of 2030? Is it their intention to reduce the disparity on spending per capita? Do they regard spending per capita as a significant measure of how well the various regions are doing, or are likely to be able to do? Are they progressing towards any comparability at all with London?

The other issue, of the variety of services that apply in cities outside London, strikes me—I hope I am not the only one—as quite a significant factor. We know that all cities are different, that there are big contrasts and so on, but you would expect that large, urban areas in a fairly small geographic country such as ours would have some obvious similarities in the way that they tackle the common problems of urban transport. To give just one example of the contrasts that exist: Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and a number of others have light rail systems, yet Leeds, Liverpool and Southampton are among the largest urban centres in Europe without a light rail system. There might be good reasons for that, but I am not aware of them, and I am not quite sure who would be able to tell me.

In our report, we looked at three particular types of urban transport. We looked at light rail. We looked at very light rail and, like the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, I am very keen to see how the Coventry experiment develops. It is scheduled to start in 2025, I think, and if it works as a very light rail system—with the advantages of light rail but without the huge costs of establishing the system and then maintaining it—it may be a model that is of value to everyone else. The third system that we looked at was a bus transit system, which has some of the advantages of light rail but cannot quite match it in terms of reliability, predictability and so on.

We made recommendations in our report which flow from this fact that I have tried to establish about the big variation across the country. One recommendation was that we should try to eliminate some of the disadvantages that exist in the funding system at present; the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, dealt with that, so I will not repeat what has been said. We make the case in our report for a block grant system, which would make life easier for people making the applications and make life more predictable for the local authorities or regional governments that exist. It is something that the Government should consider.

Perhaps most important in this particular area is that discussion and evaluation of the schemes that exist is absolutely fundamental. We are not talking about huge sums of money here, just the common sense of recognising that there are different systems in roughly comparable areas but no proper evaluation of how they are all working. With this, I am in fact suggesting something to the Minister that does not cost large amounts of money—though I fear that my suggestion that the regions should do as well as London would cost large amounts of money. This is why I would particularly like to hear her response on that point.

My Lords, I welcome this report and agree with the general premise that public transport plays a vital role in urban environments, enabling people to access education, leisure, family and/or work. It is as important for economic productivity as community dynamism.

The report’s recognition that many British towns outside London have inadequate, unreliable and expensive transport infrastructure is of concern, as was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. The consequences can be dire when public transport is not adequate to aid essential travel. Sometimes, alternative support is required. For example, there is a story from Blackburn, which was raised by Jake Berry MP in the other place, where parents of 170 SEN pupils have been left in limbo after a specialist subsidised bus service used by Walton-le-Dale High School was axed due to a huge unaffordable hike in prices. The school is out of area but, as Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council does not have suitable school places for the pupils, the children are stranded. Normal public transport is neither suitable nor available, but the council tells them to just get the bus.

One parent of a son with Asperger’s in year 7 told LancsLive that:

“Even my son’s paediatrician said that he would not be safe on public transport”.

Rick Moore, a local politician leading the campaign with the parents, recently organised for them to address the council. Tillie, a year 11 pupil, eloquently explained that the walk to the closest bus stop is on an unlit country lane and that the pavement is only continuous on one side and has a section of footpath so narrow that pedestrians are forced on to the road—so much for safeguarding the young. Sadly, the council remains indifferent. I raise this to indicate the problems when public transport is inadequate and also to note that it is not always a solution to the mobility challenges of living in towns that often have poorly served rural areas close by.

I turn to another issue. One problem constantly raised in the report is the steady stream of often contradictory demands on councils from central government, which confuse transport priorities. If we look at active travel plans—a euphemistic name given to non-car mobility for which local authorities receive substantial funding—these schemes, such as cycling lanes and walkable neighbourhoods, have nothing to do with public transport. Worse, however, is that prioritising them can be a hinderance in terms of allocation of road space, as we have heard, and can often have the unintended consequence of increasing congestion.

As James Freeman from BRT UK told the committee:

“At the moment, to favour the cyclist—because that is where the money and focus are—public buses have found themselves back in the queue, and the bus service becomes unreliable and slow as a result”.

As the report rightly notes, bus services are attractive to users only if they have some priority over the rest of the traffic and are therefore able to compete with undertaking the journey by car. Of course, anyone choosing to travel by car is likely to elicit admonishment, as driving seems to be thoroughly disapproved of in transport policy circles. I found it dispiriting that the report fuels this by positing improving public transport as a way of reducing car use. This is unnecessarily binary, divisive and unhelpful for citizens. The Government’s response to the transport decarbonisation plan states that measures are needed to

“shift to public and active transport”,

and the inquiry reports experts saying that

“a reduction in trips by private car of the order of 30% is needed to help meet net zero targets.”

I am worried that the language in this debate is misleading, even disingenuous. This is posed by the DfT as helping to “improve travel choices”, and local authorities have been given powers to implement measures to “support improved choices”. TfL says that the Government have an important role in making public transport, walking and cycling the mode of choice, but the public are not being given a choice here. Too often, policies seem coercive and anti-choice.

One reason why I am opposed to the report’s recommendation that the Government should set explicit targets for a reduction in car journeys is that it is bad enough as it is. Some local authorities have adopted local targets, at the cost of citizens’ freedom to choose to drive. Indeed, many drivers now feel like they are the villains in an anti-car crusade in urban areas, and often there is little regard for democratic scrutiny. Look at the exorbitant emission zone charges, which are widely unpopular. Noble Lords will have noted the large Together rally in London on Saturday, against ULEZ. Then there are the infernal low-traffic neighbourhoods, where roads are blocked off with no discussion and no mandate. Hackney Council is planning to close 75% of its road space to cars. Bath’s first LTN, in Southlands, has proven highly controversial but the council has just announced 48 more LTNs, and despite lively opposition from Bath’s grass-roots “save our city” campaign there will also be a £10 million emissions zone, dubbed a ring of steel by locals. All over the country, families can no longer drive to their weekly shop, taxi routes are lengthened and more costly for the disabled and the elderly getting to GPs, and care workers and plumbers alike are unable to navigate speedy routes to their next appointment. It is not so much active travel, as anti-travel.

On the committee’s visit to Birmingham, we were told that meeting the region’s 2041 decarbonisation target would require a 35% reduction in car travel over the next 10 years, a 50% reduction in all trips and an 800% increase in wheeling journeys on vehicles such as bikes and scooters; that will be great for the elderly. In that context, there would be a need for a 100% increase in public transport—as though improving public transport is just a means to an anti-car end. Worse, drivers end up getting the blame for problems with public transport. Transport for West Midlands complains that a “preference towards” driving is perhaps

“the ‘biggest barrier to improving public transport’”.

Surveys in the region show why people drive: 87% say that their lifestyle requires that they own a car or a van, and 94% say they enjoy the independence which car ownership gives them. That word, “independence”, is key. What is fascinating is that ever since the anti-car policy wonks grabbed the political steering wheel back in the late 1990s, and despite the exponential growth in the car-reduction industry ever since, the number of cars on the road rose substantially between the 1990s and 2020. As the director of the future cities project says:

“What this predominantly shows … is that personal mobility remains important to the public, despite all the policies that are so hostile to driving”,

and that it is a form of liberation especially espoused by women.

I urge the Minister not to succumb to pressure to make anti-car measures more explicit, but rather to concentrate on the worthy and vigorously pursued goal of improving public transport on its own terms.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the members of the Built Environment Committee for their thorough, detailed and evidence-based review of the current context of public transport in our towns and cities. This review comes at a critical time for public transport, as we consider considerable changes to travel patterns as we emerge from the Covid pandemic. I also thank the Institution of Civil Engineers, mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for its helpful briefing, and our Library, which, as ever, provided a succinct and relevant briefing.

I grew up in a planned new town with 45 kilometres of cycleway infrastructure, which I know many towns would give their eye teeth for, and the then council-owned SuperBus service, which disappeared with privatisation. I consider it a very fortunate, good model of transport. In considering this subject, we must always be extremely careful not to underestimate the vital importance of all aspects of public transport. A notable statistic that stood out for me was the National Audit Office’s conclusion that bus services alone affect the performance of two-thirds of government departments. I would go so far as to say that public transport is a key pillar of levelling up, sitting alongside jobs and skills, housing, health, education, community safety and climate change.

The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to the contribution that good bus services have made in London to social mobility and the economy. As he said, nearly two-thirds of all journeys on public transport are by bus. Yet, as the Campaign for Better Transport points out, bus miles have declined by 27% since the pandemic, with over 5,000 routes lost. The Select Committee sets out clearly in its report that when the pandemic support funding ends—I appreciate that the cliff edge has been moved to June; that was greatly appreciated—we could see even further reductions of 20% in bus services. As the poorest 20% of households make three times as many trips by bus as the richest 20%, this could have a further devastating impact on levelling up. If you take a job or college place based on being able to access it by bus, and then that bus service is cut, your access to that opportunity is severed. These points were referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Carrington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, gave another worrying example of their impact.

There can be no doubt that the hollowing out of local government funding over successive years since 2010 has inflicted deep and lasting damage on the provision of effective and efficient public transport for our communities. With un-ringfenced budgets, the pressures on adult care and children’s services are overwhelming local authority budgets, resulting in cuts to areas such as transport subsidies. As has been debated this afternoon, funding for transport is at best contradictory and, at worst, chaotic and wasteful.

My noble friend Lord Grocott referred to issues around “London versus the rest”. I also wanted to mention the importance of differentiating between towns and cities in relation to public transport, not to mention interconnectivity with rural areas. Towns can feel like the Cinderella of public transport systems; they miss out on competitive funding pots because their local authorities do not have the resources to put bids together and, in two-tier areas, they have to compete with surrounding districts for funding. The prospect of London-style public transport—even Manchester-style public transport would be quite good—can seem like a distant dream in our towns, where services are infrequent, unreliable and expensive, or in rural areas, where they are non-existent. Even creative solutions such as demand-responsive transport can flounder because of over-demand and congestion.

It is clear from the report that changing public transport needs post pandemic need radically new thinking and approaches. Our services are geared to nine-to-five weekday commuting, when the whole pattern of working and leisure travel has changed. In truth, this was starting to happen before Covid, but it has accelerated considerably. The Institution of Civil Engineers points out the importance of data gathering and analysis post Covid; these points are examined in detail in the report. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response on how this is being undertaken by the DfT and whether she yet has any sense of how long it will be before a settled, post-pandemic picture of public transport use emerges.

It is impossible to do justice to such a comprehensive report in a few minutes, so I will focus on passenger experience, funding and devolution. With the complex systems and structures around public transport provision in the UK, it is all too easy for the passenger experience to get lost. Although bus service improvement plans are a step in the right direction, what reassurance is there of robust bus user consultation processes? The same applies to train and other public transport modes. Too often, it seems to be left to passengers to form their own pressure groups to drive the changes that they want to see.

In my local community people tell me that, although they would like very frequent services, they would much rather have a sharp focus on reliability and travel information that they can rely on and—as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to—affordable and stable fares, transport systems that connect with each other and with walking and cycling routes, and to feel safe. I have some experience of this, having just finished the production of a bus interchange that links in with cycling. The railway station has covered waiting accommodation, Changing Places-type toilets and other facilities linking with mobility scooters to get people around once they get to the bus station. Can the Minister comment on how close we are to an integrated transport strategy? Could that help enable the data sharing needed to provide good passenger travel information?

I was particularly pleased to see the issue of safety being taken very seriously by the Select Committee, a point highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Changing work and leisure patterns mean that public transport is often needed in the evenings, and the combination of unreliable services, stations, stops and interchanges that do not feel safe and the fact that many local authorities have decided for budget reasons to turn off street lights at night all mitigate against women and other vulnerable users feeling safe to use public transport.

The ambition to bring local transport systems

“significantly closer to the standards of London”

is laudable if somewhat incomprehensible to those who live in rural areas that may have scarce or non-existent public transport. Nevertheless, let us be optimistic. If improvements are to be made, it will require a herculean effort of disentangling the complexities of funding and the disparities mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott.

The Select Committee is right to set out the key challenges. They include evaluation of the investment in capital schemes, on which the committee had some very interesting evidence from Professor Preston, who discussed the issues of social cost benefits of transport schemes relating to public health, environment, access to jobs and skills, and quoted a KPMG study showing a 3:1 social benefit over cost. There is the further cliff edge for support for bus services funding, now extended to June 2023, but can the Minister elaborate further on what will happen after that? Then there is the competitive bidding process for funding, which disadvantages those areas most in need of stable, sustainable public transport.

There is also the failure to deliver less than half of the £3 billion that local authorities were expecting for bus service improvement plans. I have seen the table setting out the combined total, but that does not help the local authorities that wanted to be ambitious with their improvement plans or those that got no funding at all. Encouraging local authorities to bid for levelling-up funds for public transport just exchanges one competitive funding pot with another. Can the Minister comment on how the DfT will respond to the Select Committee’s recommendation that it should switch from funding pots—or bidding bingo, as I prefer to call it—to provision in block grants, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and others? I note that we are told that we may see a paper on this later this year, but it is pretty urgent that we get on with that.

On the point about concessionary fares, which was raised by noble Lords this afternoon, I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. The fantastic contribution that concessionary fares make to well-being for those who benefit is remarkable. I hope that the Minister will confirm that it is not the intention of the Government to use this method to fill the funding gap.

Lastly, on devolution—for which I am a passionate advocate, as many noble Lords will know—the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill going through your Lordships’ House has the opportunity and the potential to ensure that the Select Committee’s key recommendation on effective integration of land use and transport planning can be realised. In fact, we will be discussing some of these issues tomorrow in Committee. As Manchester has been able to go further with this than other local authorities, it was interesting to read Andy Burnham’s evidence to the Select Committee. In advocating franchising, he pointed out that his case was strengthened

“because large subsidies are being paid at the moment to various operators in the deregulated model”,

which, in his view,

“delivers very limited returns for the public”.

He also asked whether public operators would be allowed to take part in the franchising schemes as well. I am interested in the Minister’s view on that.

I look forward to the Minister’s responses to all the points made this afternoon. It is absolutely right that we should link transport planning with local plans. There are some difficulties with that, particularly in two-tier areas, but we work together and co-operate well on issues like that. We may need to articulate that in debates on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, and the noble Lords, Lord Haselhurst and Lord Shipley, the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Faulkner, for their very strong advocacy of that system.

We cannot all live in Paris, which we heard about earlier, although some of us might not be averse to that—I certainly would not, but it is important that we have accessible, reliable and safe transport networks, which are essential to help us to achieve our long-term strategic objectives. Decarbonising the economy is not the least of those, but there are also the sustainable development goals. If the recommendations of this report are implemented, they will take us some way towards that, and I look forward to hearing the responses from the Minister.

My Lords, I am well aware that I shall get about halfway through my speech and we shall then all be called to vote, but I shall carry on none the less.

I am enormously grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate today. There were so many insightful contributions, some quite spirited, and not all noble Lords were in agreement on some of the key matters of the day, which I shall come back to. Of course, my noble friend Lord Moylan opened the debate extremely well, as he always does, and I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for her role in chairing the committee. I remember my day in front of the committee very well indeed; it is always a pleasure to be grilled by people who share my ambitions—and, indeed, the enthusiasm for all things transport.

I start by noting and emphasising the clear alignment between many of the committee’s recommendations and the Government’s own ambitions for public transport in our towns and cities. To demonstrate, for example, in the recent Spring Budget, the Government announced a further round of city region sustainable transport settlements, which is the worst named scheme ever—or CRSTS. We have pledged another £8.8 billion over five years from 2027, which builds on the £5.7 billion provided in the first round of settlements. Noble Lords may think that that is a very large figure and that I am just banging it out, but why is it important?

The settlement is so important for cities outside London, to give them certainty so that they can plan for the future. That is precisely what we have done by indicating the amount of funding that will be available from 2027. If we are to meet our goal of ensuring that places outside London have public transport that is significantly closer to that which is in London, we need to make these very substantial and long-term commitments to spending in those areas. The committee called for block grants, and I shall come back to that later—because, of course, one size definitely does not fit all and never does with transport.

On buses, noble Lords will have noticed—and this was of great interest to my noble friend Lord Moylan—that we have, in recent weeks, taken a number of short, medium and long-term measures. We have extended the bus recovery grant and the £2 fare cap scheme until June 2023. I do not have any further information on that, and I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, is very keen to understand where we go next. Clearly, we are looking at this. The noble Baroness also asked when we will know when patronage has settled. I suspect that we never will. My experience in my four years in the DfT, particularly in the past three years, is that it is never homogeneous.

I am going to take a little break, and we shall go and vote. I shall continue talking in due course.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, I will try to recover where I was, but I cannot wholly remember, so I will go back to the bit on buses because it is a topic of great importance. I had mentioned the bus recovery grant and the £2 fare cap, both of which have been extended. On lower patronage and knowing where it will settle, I point out that it will depend on the location and sometimes even be down to the route. The other thing to recall is that some of the elements of the national bus strategy and the bus service improvement plans are about growing patronage from wherever we are now. Therefore, I very much expect things not to be static and for changes to come for quite some time yet.

The DfT also announced further funding for the ZEBRA programme in Yorkshire, Norfolk, Leicester, Portsmouth and Hampshire, and the establishment of the new virtual bus centre of excellence to boost skills and good practice in the sector. That is key for local transport authorities, because they have a problem when it comes to capability and capacity. That is a topic that I will come back to in due course.

These measures show that the Government are committed both to maintaining a good standard of bus services—as the Built Environment Committee suggested that we do—and to building on these standards through the delivery of the national bus strategy. For those most ambitious local transport authorities that will lead, through the bus service improvement plans, to increasing patronage.

Noble Lords identify that frequency is really important. That is what we are trying to get to with the BSIPs, particularly in bigger cities, putting the user first and increasing frequencies to provide the sort of services needed. Then, in more rural areas, there are interventions such as demand-responsive transport—and indeed reliable services. A number of noble Lords pointed out that reliability is what the user really needs.

The DfT has also published its transport data strategy, which is hugely important. We have to encourage people to use the data provided by the DfT via the operators, so that they can collate that into apps, and the users then get a better experience because they know when buses will arrive and how frequent they are. My noble friend Lady Eaton highlighted how important it is to have that information to hand. Those of us who live in London take it utterly for granted, and we must make sure that it is rolled out as far as possible.

This is not an exhaustive list of how the Government are aligned with the Built Environment Committee. Our announcements include £1 billion-worth of funding in the third round of the levelling-up fund as well as additional funding for highways maintenance, and indeed many more. The Government are not sitting still. We absolutely recognise the points made in the report; as I note, we did not agree with all of them, but we agreed with the vast majority.

The next subject I want to peruse is devolution, local leadership, capability, capacity and all the things that go with that. I have found the debate today a little confusing and hard to rationalise in parts. I hear some noble Lords wanting an integrated national strategy for the whole of transport, but that sounds very communist to me, and I am not entirely sure how one would achieve it. Other noble Lords are very much focusing on local needs for local people and local accountability, then others say things like, “It’s dreadful that central government demands so many things from local authorities”, when I am not entirely sure that the Government do. I am not sure we have the levers to do that, particularly in transport, because transport is, and has been for quite a long time, highly devolved to local transport authorities. Issues such as local transport planning rest with local authorities; they simply cannot be done from Whitehall, nor should they. This is very much by design. We rely on local and regional organisations to work together to identify and utilise opportunities for network improvements. The noble Baroness, Lady Vere, sitting at her desk in Horseferry Road, cannot do that: it is just impossible. We have to create the right framework and provide the right guidance and funding to local authorities, and then they need to run with it. That is what is so important.

The levelling-up White Paper committed to extending, deepening and simplifying local devolution in England

“so that by 2030, every part of England that wants one will have a devolution deal”

because we have seen the enormous success of devolution deals to date in the world of transport. Noble Lords will have heard me refer to the CRSTS. That is billions and billions of pounds that we give to those areas with devolution deals. It is long-term funding—it allows them to plan, and they have the capacity and capability to do so. This is the goal; this is where we want to be, but we cannot be there at this moment.

I look at the years when I have been in the department. Sometimes when you get bids for funding, frankly, they are not very good, and I cannot in good conscience turn around and allocate taxpayers’ funding to bids that are not very good. They simply would not fly. That is why we need both processes. Highly skilled larger areas with devolution deals can get their long-term settlements but, until we have greater local responsibility and accountability via devolution deals, we will have to have a bidding process. I am okay with that balance. However, there will also be smaller local transport authorities which, if you gave them a block grant, would not have a hope of ever being able to build anything significant. It is unfair to keep those people out in the cold, because the benefits of transport often go to users who are not in your area at all. That is the whole point of transport: it gets you from A to B.

Allied to that, we come to the topic of planning integration and connectivity, which is really important. Transport integration is the holy grail, we need to make sure we get it done as well as possible. That is why having devolution deals for transport is very beneficial: because authorities can plan on a holistic basis over a significant area.

What do we want to do with the buses? There are the bus service improvement plans, but it is really important that they are used to update their local transport plans. I think it was my noble friend Lady Eaton who noted that 61% have not been updated since 2011. If I was the leader of a local council, I would feel a little worried about that, to put it mildly—but this is what local accountability and responsibility is all about. We must provide guidance to local transport authorities, and that is exactly what we will do. We will consult on guidance on the local transport plans fairly soon, we hope, but it is only guidance. Local transport authorities then have the responsibility, as the representatives in their local area, to build them into local transport plans. That is absolutely key.

Of course those local transport plans should align with an area’s broader local development plans—that is important—but it is a complex picture and the timelines may be misaligned sometimes. To set out some sort of Whitehall-dictated “thou shalt do this on this date between this plan and this plan” is not going to work. We have to give the responsibility and the accountability to local areas to decide for themselves what works and what does not. Quite frankly, if it does not work and they do not get the best for their local community, voters can vote them out at the next local election.

I am well aware that there will be further discussion around local transport plans and local plans and how they are going to work together via the infrastructure delivery strategy in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill currently passing through your Lordships’ House. I would welcome further discussion—I find it very interesting—but I do not see it as a solution that, at the moment, looks likely to achieve the best outcomes for local people.

Moving on to the other rather vexed and difficult question, I think it is worth reflecting on car usage. I will repeat what I said when I gave evidence to the committee, which is that the Government do not have targets on car usage; we have targets on other things to make public transport, cycling and walking the first choice for travel, but we are not making anyone do that. We believe that it would be the best option for many urban areas, as was published in Gear Change. We have had a very open and honest conversation about what we want to see, particularly in our more built-up areas, in terms of cycling and walking. Furthermore, we made changes to the Highway Code to make sure that those who could cause the most harm bear the greatest responsibility. We want to improve our streets, particularly in urban areas where there can be tensions. I do not want those tensions to exist, but I cannot mandate them not to. We have to create the environment for that.

Road space allocation also causes quite a lot of difference of opinion. I say once again that no one size fits all for road space allocation. The Government can revise guidance for local transport plans and refresh the Manual for Streets, which is what we are doing. With those two documents, we have to leave it to local transport authorities, listening to their local communities, to decide what they want to do. We are not going to make them put in any cycle lanes or bus lanes. It is up to them. We think they should, and if they do not then other things might happen in terms of funding streams. At the moment, they simply would not get any funding for bus lanes—but if they do not want any, why should they? This is important. Road space allocation goes back to local responsibility and accountability, although I accept that there are tensions and it is difficult. Every single street in every single place in this country will need a different approach, and that is why local people doing it is so important.

I am conscious that I am desperately running out of time, but I want to comment on something very close to my heart and those of many noble Lords. My noble friends Lord Carrington and Lady Eaton highlighted transport safety. That is key to attracting people back. Bus service improvement plans should include how local transport authorities and operators will ensure not only that services are safe but that they feel safe. We are also taking forward 13 recommendations by the independent Transport Champions for Tackling Violence against Women and Girls on street safety, doing research on safety and the accessibility of bus stations and stops. I have many more things that I will endeavour to put in a letter. I really do welcome the work of the committee and hope that it continues to delve into these matters around transport. They are not easy, but ensuring accountability and responsibility locally is the best way forward.

My Lords, I see that, as rumours of the exciting quality of this debate have spread through the Palace of Westminster, the Moses Room has filled up with an audience keen to listen. None the less, I shall endeavour to be brief in summing up. I thank everybody who has taken part in the debate. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for reminding me that in my opening remarks I should have thanked the people who gave evidence to our committee in the course of our inquiry. I am pleased to do that.

I will briefly run through some of the key points made. My noble friend Lady Eaton put great importance on what is referred to as “the first and last mile” in transport: the getting to the hub that allows you to take part in the transport system, which we could have said more about.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to Paris and the possibility of getting road users to be more courteous to each other. We know how to do that; we have just abandoned it in this country. We know how to do it because we learned lessons and started to apply them from the Netherlands in relation to shared space, but then we opted for a scheme of not sharing space but segregating it. If you start to segregate and allocate, top down, a limited resource, which is what road space is, inevitably you get people quarrelling about how much they have had allocated to them and about how others are interfering with their rights to their space, and so forth.

In this context, my noble friend Lord Carrington of Fulham and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, both referred to the importance of bus reliability and the fact that cycle lanes can impinge on that. Equally, you could say that bus lanes could impinge on the space that might be allocated to people using bicycles. But none of this is taken into account by the Government because, of course, it is all meant to be a matter of local choice.

A large number of participants in the debate—the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Haselhurst—talked about the importance of joining up the planning and transport policies. I do not see why this is such a difficulty for the Minister. She has told us how much money—a very large amount—the Government intend to allocate to local transport schemes over the next few years. Is it too much to say—other government departments do not find it too much to say—“If you are going to have this money, you need an up-to-date local transport plan”? It might be one that shows the department that it is coherent with local planning policies too, in particular for new development.

I have the highest admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, but my one quibble with his contribution is that he quoted a consultancy company that was critical of national and local governments for their reluctance to impose policies limiting private car use. I do not know where this consultancy has been, but it has obviously not been anywhere near a low-traffic neighbourhood that has been sprung on us recently, one of the many road-closure schemes that have been going on or indeed things such as the ULEZ. These policies are absolutely everywhere at the moment. However, the noble Lord valuably illustrated from his own knowledge and experience—coming back to my earlier point—how development and transport working together, a classic case of joining up policies, can produce the right results if it is done in a coherent way.

I shall not go much further. My noble friend Lord Haselhurst mentioned very light rail, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, rightly pointed out disparities in funding between different regions. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, for endorsing most if not all of the things said in the debate by those who participated in putting forward the report.

The Minister has put a great deal of preparation into this. She is highly committed to transport and public transport, and we are all grateful to her for listening to us today and for responding on behalf of the Government. I am relieved to be able to tell her that I do not think anybody in the debate actually suggested that she run all the local transport systems in the country from her desk in Whitehall, but even so, none of that—with her very correct emphasis on local choice by locally elected authorities—would stop her insisting that transport plans are up to date as a condition of funding. It would not stop her considering whether her active travel plans—which she says in that minatory tone are entirely a matter for local choice but obviously they will not get any money they do not adopt them and that other consequences might flow from them—are actually impinging on the reliability of buses, which she thinks is very important.

I think that we could do more and that the report remains still to be properly digested by the Government. We did not have time to discuss post-project evaluation, but many of the recommendations made in the report still have not been fully taken on board by the Government, though I think they would be very helpful. With that, I thank everybody and I commend the report to the committee.

Motion agreed.

The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century Follow-Up Report

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the Liaison Committee The Ties that Bind: Citizenship and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century Follow-up Report.

My Lords, it has been nearly six years since the Select Committee was first constituted to look into issues of citizenship and civic engagement, and I was asked to take the chair. We published our initial report, and the Government gave their response in June 2018. As a committee, we were very disappointed with what the Government had to say and in particular when we had a follow-up meeting with Ofsted which seemed to have very little grasp of the issues and a lack of understanding of what the report had said. We were able to return to the fray using the new Liaison Committee procedures which enable follow-up inquiries to take place. Our follow-up report was published about a year ago and the Government response—which we are debating this afternoon—came out shortly thereafter, towards the end of May. This report will enable us to put the pink ribbon around the file after nearly six years.

It is important, therefore, that I place on record my thanks to all members of the committee who have kept the faith, in particular those who are speaking today, namely the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and a bevy of Baronesses—if hope that is still a word that I can use—my noble friends Lady Eaton and Lady Redfern, the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris of Yardley and Lady Barker, and not overlooking the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, who joined in for the second round, which we also enjoyed. I need also to record my thanks to our clerk, Lucy Molloy, who has been a tower of strength. Members of the committee and of the House will probably not be aware that Lucy will be moving on, leaving Parliament and going to pastures new in May. I am sure that she will be sadly missed. Equally, and probably more importantly, Lucy has also recently got engaged. I am sure that I speak for the committee and indeed the whole House when I say that we wish her every happiness in her future career and future life.

What has our committee achieved in these six years? I think that the candid and truthful answer is not a lot, certainly not enough. I fear that we have not been able to convince the Government—we certainly have not been able to convince Ofsted—that citizenship represents a discrete policy area, moreover, a policy area that carries with it significant implications for the future social cohesion of our country. Let me repeat the truism that our world is undergoing an unprecedentedly rapid rate of change from which our society is not immune. In particular, the impact of globalisation has meant that many areas of the UK have lost the economic activities that underpinned our communities, which has led to a degree of disillusionment with our society. At the same time, rapid population growth means that 28%—more than one-quarter—of the children born in this country last year were born to mothers who were not themselves born here.

Against this background, it must be more important than ever that young people learn what it means to be a British citizen, the rights and responsibilities that go with it and, last but not least, the various ways that individuals can make their voices heard. You do not learn this by osmosis; it has to be taught, and taught well, not just theoretically but with practical explanations and examples.

There are two leading actors in this play: the Government and Ofsted. I turn first to the Government. To redress the increasing neglect of this subject, they need to give sustained, consistent support to citizenship education. In particular, that means a stable policy framework. Too often, our committee found evidence of what we called “initiativeitis”—individual, unconnected policy ideas set in train by a particular Minister, many of which were not tracked or followed up to assess relative success or failure. Therefore, a key recommendation of our first report was the need to create this stable framework to give consistent support to this subject. To date, I am afraid, I do not think that our committee is clear that this has been achieved or accepted by the Government.

The Inter-Ministerial Group on Safe and Integrated Communities, which had citizenship as one of its core purposes, met rarely and, after 2019, never met again. By the time of our follow-up report, another set of responsibilities had been established and now, a year later, these have all been swept away as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. When she comes to reply, can the Minister explain to the committee how this Bill can provide reassurance about the future provision of citizenship education?

In particular, I draw the Minister’s attention to the paragraph on page 6 of the government response to recommendations 1 to 6 of our follow-up report, which states:

“We are reflecting on the best practical ways to deliver citizenship and civic engagement policy across Government. We will share an update on this work with the committee in due course”.

I am not sure that the committee has yet to receive that promised update. Do we have a date by which we can expect its delivery?

The second major cause of concern about the Government’s commitment is the downgrading of the role of specific training of teachers in this subject. It is generally recognised that the number of teachers in this area has halved in the past few years. The Government no longer give the numbers in training, and citizenship education bursaries are no longer available.

The second major player is Ofsted. To cut to the chase, our follow-up report made a number of recommendations at paragraphs 72 to 77 about Ofsted’s work. It is no exaggeration to say that Ofsted rejected the lot. It persistently mixes up citizenship education with PSHE—personal, social, health and economic education. In truth, they are completely different. As has been made clear in a very telling way by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who I am glad to see is here now, PSHE is about “me” and how I am developing as a person, and a very important issue that is, but citizenship education is about “we”—how our society works, how we all benefit from it and how we must contribute to it—and therefore has a completely different focus. Ofsted’s disregard for citizenship education is further evidenced by the fact that it does not undertake any deep dives in this subject, as it does with other policy areas.

The only other area that I wish to deal with before I finish is the Life in the UK Test, which is a mirage that never gets any closer. Since 2013, we have been promised that it will be updated, and it has not yet happened.

To conclude, of course our committee understands the need for our education system to focus on practical skills. However, unless we all learn about our joint stake in our society and our responsibility for it, we risk the emergence of an increasingly atomised, unconnected and disgruntled population.

My Lords, as a starting point, and on behalf of all those involved, I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson for his diligence and determination in making sure that the findings of both the original and follow-up report are not rotting somewhere on a shelf, having died a death all that time ago. This is far too serious a subject to allow that to happen, and here we have a stalwart Member who has made sure that it has not happened in that way.

In a 21st-century country, a successful democratic nation will be one whose citizens feel secure, engaged and fulfilled, where everyone feels that they belong and can make a contribution. Those are not my words but were some of the opening comments in the first committee report from the Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement. I am sure that they are words that we all agree with. The report tried to identify barriers that prevent people contributing and feeling part of our society, and we also looked at actions that can be taken to remove those barriers. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson said, it was very disappointing that the Government appeared to take little action from the recommendations, although the pressures of events such as the Covid-19 pandemic have understandably received time-consuming focus.

There were many valuable suggestions in the original report which could have, and still can have, great value for the citizen experience. The follow-up report that we are discussing today focuses on three areas, which my noble friend Lord Hodgson has covered eloquently already. These three strands could be, and should be, supportive strands for the Government’s ambitions for levelling up.

Cross-government co-ordination is critical if policies on citizenship are to be in any way successful. The committee felt strongly that a Minister with responsibility for citizenship and civic engagement should be appointed in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities or the Cabinet Office. That Minister should have membership of the domestic and economic levelling-up committee. Unfortunately, that committee no longer exists. However, there are two committees entitled “Domestic and Economic Affairs”. One has the remit to consider matters relating to the economy and to Home Office matters. The second committee may consider matters relating to citizenship and civic engagement, and its remit is to consider matters relating to the union of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State for DLUHC is a member of both.

Dr Mycock, reader at the Department of Behavioural and Social Sciences at Huddersfield University, told the committee that government departments have sought to better integrate citizenship and civic engagement into policy-making, but the overall picture is one where work across government still lacks coherence, co-ordination and connectivity.

The government White Paper on levelling up refers to civic institutions frequently throughout. Cross-government co-ordination and long-term planning are cited as critical aspects of the levelling-up strategy. I ask my noble friend the Minister what progress has been made in those recommendations and how those objectives have been fulfilled with the Cabinet committees. The Government’s response to the committee stated that they were reflecting on best practice for ways to deliver citizenship and civil engagement across government, and that their thinking would be shared with the committee. Like my noble friend Lord Hodgson, I have not become aware of any update. I ask my noble friend the Minister to tell us how well these reflections are proceeding.

The committee’s 2018 report found that the education system has a pivotal role in developing active citizens. Witnesses to the committee stated that citizenship education could lead to greater social cohesion, greater resilience and aspiration among young people. The committee made nine recommendations regarding the delivery, funding and assessment of citizenship education but, disappointingly, both the Government and Ofsted broadly rejected them.

As a result of the impact of Covid-19, the Government have made a commitment that they would not make any changes to the national curriculum for the remainder of this Parliament. In the education White Paper Opportunity for All, the Government said:

“We will build on our high-quality citizenship education by supporting the National Youth Guarantee, promoting volunteering and expanding access to the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Cadet Schemes”.

Interestingly, that was the only reference to citizenship in the White Paper. The national youth guarantee appears to deal with volunteering aspects of civic engagement, but could my noble friend the Minister give the Committee information to illustrate how well that is working out in practice? Also, could she please inform us how the core knowledge in citizenship education, such as how government works and how laws are made and upheld, is being delivered?

The national youth guarantee is designed so that young people in the most deprived areas have access to many new activities, social action projects and the National Citizen Service. Some £387 million has been allocated for the national youth guarantee. What proportion of funding is going to citizenship-related activities?

As we have heard, of major concern to the committee is the role of Ofsted in the citizenship agenda. It was alarming to find a general lack of knowledge and understanding about citizenship by inspectors, and to note the lack of seriousness that inspectors appeared to give the subject.

The committee came to the conclusion that Ofsted is misinterpreting the Government’s policy and assessment criteria for citizenship. Ofsted does not use quality of education when assessing citizenship education. Citizenship should not be conflated with PSHE. We heard the excellent and simple explanation that “PHSE is about me, and citizenship is about us”. In the Ofsted handbook and framework, it is clear that the framework is to look at the quality of education based on the national curriculum which clearly includes citizenship. This implies that the same rigour is not being applied to citizenship as to other curriculum subjects. The committee heard that, in many schools, citizenship is regarded as a low-status subject and in many cases is not taught at all. The Government should outline what steps they will take to ensure that citizenship education is not sidelined. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain why the Government support Ofsted’s practice of assessing citizenship with the incorrect metric.

Life in the United Kingdom has received much criticism over time. It has been described as inadequate for its intended purpose and simply a tick-box exercise. In reply to a Written Question in December 2022, it was stated that the Government intended to review the handbook in the first half of 2023. I was going to say that, surprisingly, nothing seems to have happened, but I can note that this morning I received an email, as I am sure other noble Lords did, inviting us to a briefing on the update to the Life in the UK policy. I am hoping it will be helpful to all of us. Can the Minister inform us of the progress being made on it?

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to speak at this stage of the consideration of our report. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for his leadership. I think he said in his opening remarks that this is the bit where we tie the pink ribbon around the report, giving the impression that it is our last go at it, but I give the Minister a friendly warning that I do not think for a minute that the noble Lord will give up, and I am sure he will find another way of getting back—as he should do, because this is an important issue. It is a very good report, and hardly any of the recommendations have been accepted, and that is a problem. That is not Parliament doing well, and it is not the Government taking the right decisions.

I want to spend most of my time of the education part of the recommendations, but I shall briefly talk about the first area of cross-government co-ordination and strategy. This is a debate about whether it is better to have a Minister responsible for citizenship and civic engagement or an interministerial group. We have had these debates about a range of issues. My experience, personally and from observing Governments, is that interministerial groups do not have a record for delivering radical change. They are rarely successful. I am hard put to think of a major initiative that has achieved a great deal that has been brought about by an interministerial group. There are changes in the structure of government, Ministers change, and usually the only Minister thinking about it is the chair, and not the other Ministers who have been told to go along to represent their department. It is better to have a Minister who is charged with and accountable for this area. The Government know that—because, if we look down the list of Ministers in this Government, we find that there are Ministers responsible for net zero, veterans, artificial intelligence, building safety, social mobility and well-being, and we all know the circumstances that have brought those ministerial posts about. Those subjects are important; people worry about them. We want to do them better, and the Government’s response has been to put a Minister in charge. That was the right decision, and they should do that with citizenship, because citizenship is as important as those other areas.

I want to talk mainly about citizenship education. There is a huge dilemma in the Government having mixed up PSHE and citizenship education. They are not the same, but there is a bit of history to this. I am not critical of this but, when the Minister’s predecessors in the coalition Government came to power, they really pushed resilience, perseverance, personal fulfilment and doing your best. I agree with all that, I think it is great, but it overtook citizenship and pushed it out. No one during that time was advocating for citizenship—but we and the Government should be able to do more than one thing at once. Over that period, the two things got conflated, because no one was flying the banner for citizenship.

I am in favour of teaching pupils about keeping healthy, keeping themselves safe, online safety, good relationships, being resilient, being a volunteer and all of that, but it is not citizenship. That is not what citizenship is in the national curriculum. It says in our national curriculum that citizenship is about acquiring

“a sound knowledge and understanding of how the United Kingdom is governed, its political system and how citizens participate actively in its democratic systems of government”.

It teaches

“skills to think critically and debate political questions”.

It is totally different, and the two have been confused. Of course, one can contribute to the other, but at the moment everything is secondary to a heading of PSHE. No one is flying the flag, and it gets left out. There is a problem to be solved.

James Weinberg—I hope I have pronounced his name correctly—in our report said that

“those in the top quintile for household income are five times more likely to participate in political activities than those in the lowest”.

This is a bigger gap than in any other area of our activities in school. If we had that gap in teaching literacy, numeracy or science, in getting kids to university, in running, skipping, painting, drawing or doing sculpture—in whatever—we would be worried, and we would have a strategy to overcome it. It would be top of our agenda. However, we do not seem to know about it in this case; it is not talked about, and we do not do anything about it.

There is no one in this building who does not believe that democracy is important, has to be preserved, cherished and that we have to work hard to keep it going because there are threats to it. But when we look at what we are doing in schools, we can see that we are not giving our children the best chance of growing up to be fulfilled citizens who can take part in democracy. We cannot expect them to vote and be politically engaged as adults if we do not give them skills, opportunities and experiences when they are children. The school system just does not do that.

Citizenship is optional in primary schools; you do not have to do it. It is taught badly, if it is taught at all, in secondary schools where they are meant to do it. The primary school curriculum has not been reviewed since 2001, when it was introduced. There is no incentive for recruitment of citizenship teachers and no ambition that I know of to build and develop leadership in citizenship education. As far as I can see, there is little engagement with the profession about citizenship. All of that is a problem.

The consequences of this can be seen in what is happening in schools. It is second best and slips by. Schools have not got the message that it is important and that they need to address it, nor have they had help to do that. Both previous speakers have said that Ofsted is a problem here. Whatever noble Lords feel about Ofsted, they should put it to one side for a minute. We all know that its behaviour and words have an impact on schools and, if it does not know the difference between PSHE and citizenship education, we have a problem, and it is a huge blockage.

I was not able to attend the meeting at which Ofsted gave evidence, which I was quite cross about, but I read what was said, and that was not its glory day. As far as I could see, it did not shine on that occasion. The evidence of that is the criteria it uses. Its own report has two sets of criteria: one for national curriculum subjects and the other for personal development. I will not read them out because we all have them in front of us to read if we want to, but it does not assess impact. It says of its personal development criteria, “We know that we can’t assess impact because the impact will be later on in life”. As a teacher, you always hope that the results will be there in later life, but it does not stop you looking at the results—the impact of what has happened.

The fact that Ofsted used the wrong set of criteria to evaluate a national curriculum subject is a problem. Is there any other subject on the national curriculum that is assessed by Ofsted using the personal development criteria, rather than the quality of education criteria? If there is, I do not know about it; I have never heard it mentioned.

That is a problem but, to tell the truth, what is more of a problem—and no one is perfect—is that, having had the time to engage with the Liaison Committee and to read the evidence and what good citizenship teachers said, Ofsted has made no change. It has given not an inch. No wonder people get fed up with Ofsted; not an inch has it given towards that strong bank of evidence. That is the problem: it is not necessarily that we do not always agree on the way forward but that nothing has been done to look at these recommendations. We know that things are not well, and when things are not well and there are some good recommendations, I cannot for the life of me see why you would reject them all.

Lastly, the Government have promised not to review the national curriculum until the next general election. I am really glad that our debate is taking place on the day the Prime Minister announced his review of mathematics. If you want an example of how best to get a subject to the top of the agenda, we have seen it today in the Prime Minister’s words on mathematics.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, following a speech such as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is the nightmare slot, so I am just very pleased that we had the Division.

This is the fifth follow-up that has been carried out by the Liaison Committee since the new system was introduced in 2019. As a new member of the Liaison Committee when this follow-up inquiry was agreed and held, I was really pleased to be involved, partly because it is a topic that interests me but also because I was keen to get a sense of how well this process works. It feels to me that, given the resource, in all senses, that goes into producing a committee report, it is absolutely right that we do not just leave behind what we have done. To take an updated look at the committee’s excellent initial report and how the Government have responded, the second would not have taken us very long; it is bitterly disappointing. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris: I found the evidence session with Ofsted one of the most unsatisfying witness sessions I have undertaken in more than 20 years in the House.

I was just having a look at the evidence we took in February last year for the follow-up inquiry, and it was striking how many witnesses referred to the levelling-up White Paper—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

As I was saying, when we were taking evidence for the follow-up inquiry, the levelling up White Paper had fairly recently been published. It was clear from the evidence that we took that a lot of people saw this policy intent, this drive for levelling up, as a vehicle for citizenship and, the other way around, that citizenship would be driven by notions of levelling up. There was a lot of good will and aspiration for levelling up, and most of us had a lot of sympathy with the policy intentions in the White Paper. It well described social capital as,

“the strength of communities, relationships and trust”.

It described institutional capital as,

“local leadership, capacity and capability”.

I think that we would agree that all these are intrinsically linked with notions of citizenship, as it is set out in the original report of the committee to this House. These themes were picked up by witnesses to the follow-up report.

Yet as the levelling up Bill is grinding through your Lordships’ House, there is no sense of any of these ideas and policy intents in the Bill. Somehow, it has become a morass of technicalities and legal argument, in which the essence of levelling up seems to have disappeared. I understand that between policy intent and legislation there is quite often a gulf, but it ought to be there somewhere. We ought to have in the Bill a sense of what levelling up means to citizens. I think that the revolving door of Ministers last year has something to do with the lack of coherence in the Bill, which points up the recommendation of the original committee report that the Government need to appoint a Minister with responsibility for citizenship and civic engagement. It really feels as though this coherence is missing from the levelling up Bill.

I also feel that the lack of a Minister with that sort of clout, that sort of responsibility, is also playing a part in the very real problems that are being felt by the charity, volunteering and community sector. Volunteering is something that the NCVO described as a “powerful expression of citizenship”, and I think that we all would agree with that. Here, I declare an interest as a member of the advisory board for the Institute for Volunteering Research and as a trustee of Community Action Suffolk, which supports the charity and voluntary sector in Suffolk.

Charities and volunteering have never in my mind found a natural home in government, and they very rarely have a real champion at the centre of government. This is not a debate about charities, but we all know that this is a sector which is facing some very real challenges at the moment. Most charitable organisations are reporting a significant fall-off in volunteers. Many older volunteers left during the pandemic, and they are not going to come back. Younger retirees are helping adult children with the costs of childcare. Others have gone back to work. People are working longer hours to make ends meet, and others are reporting that they can no longer afford bus fares or petrol to get to their volunteering opportunities. I am sure that there are things which government could do. However, and this is not a party-political point, successive Administrations have not understood the charity and voluntary sector. We have these big national campaigns, which can be effective at generating interest in volunteering, but they consistently fall flat because the skills needed for the next stages—matching volunteers with the right role, managing them when they get there—are often non-existent. Volunteers can be permanently deterred by a bad experience of their first time in volunteering. We saw this a decade ago with the Do IT campaign, and again during the pandemic. I fear that we are making the same mistake with the Big Help Out.

In Suffolk, we have decided that we want to do it better. We know that a lot of good will is being generated by the Coronation and that we have many leaders in communities, and many causes in the county, which collectively come together enthusiastically to pledge something not just for one day but for the longer term, really to promote the concept of volunteering. Therefore, we are running a campaign which will last several weeks. Organisations right across the county, including the county council, the high sheriff, the lord-lieutenant, voluntary organisations and the business sector, are coming together to create something which will add to the civic life of the county.

The key here is the existence of an effective infrastructure body in Community Action Suffolk, which uses its unique position to act as a catalyst, co-ordinator and champion. If aspirations of levelling up are ever to be met, this sort of organisation needs to exist throughout the country. Returning to the theme of the report, if we had a government champion for the sector in the form of a Minister, this sort of thing could perhaps become a reality.

My Lords, I join others in commending my noble friend Lord Hodgson on introducing this important debate. I also commend the Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement, which he chaired, for producing the report, and the Liaison Committee for its follow-up report. I agree very much with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, about the role of the Liaison Committee in producing such reports. They are an invaluable exercise.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, I will focus on the recommendations of the Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement on citizenship education. In chapter 3, it makes a compelling case for citizenship education and for greater resources to be devoted to ensuring its delivery. It produced several valuable recommendations, but nothing has happened. I quote from paragraph 162 of the report:

“The Government has allowed citizenship education in England to degrade to a parlous state. The decline of the subject must be addressed in its totality as a matter of urgency”.

Here we are, almost five years to the day since the report was published, and the situation, if anything, is more parlous. The Liaison Committee pursued recommendations made by the committee, but they have fallen on barren ground. The problem is not just one of government but, as has been reiterated this afternoon, of the inspection regime. As the committee made clear, Ofsted’s approach is inadequate and fails to understand the distinct significance of citizenship education. The committee argued the case for Ofsted to stop assessing citizenship education through personal development and for it instead to form part of the quality of education. This was taken up by the Liaison Committee which, at paragraph 72, addressed

“Ofsted’s disregard for citizenship as a statutory curriculum subject and its insistence on assessing it through personal development”.

It continued:

“Citizenship is an academic subject and when taught properly should involve the development of knowledge, skills and understanding that pupils need to become active and responsible citizens. Citizenship should not be treated solely as part of pupils’ personal development. To do so is to misunderstand the nature of the subject in its entirety”.

In the next paragraph, the committee goes on to state that, based on the evidence it had received,

“Ofsted is misinterpreting the Government’s policy and assessment criteria for Citizenship”.

Among its other recommendations, it says at paragraph 77 that:

“Ofsted should review the support and training given to their inspectors and should ensure that the inspectors are able to understand and effectively assess citizenship as a curriculum subject”.

Ofsted cannot do that effectively if it fails to understand the nature and significance of citizenship education.

The evidence that Ofsted gave to the Liaison Committee demonstrates the nature of the problem and Ofsted’s inability to grasp what is required. It is clear from Robert Jenrick’s response to the letter from the then chair of the Liaison Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McFall, that this remains the case. I would be grateful if my noble friend Lady Barran can tell us what action is actually being taken to ensure compliance with the recommendations of both committees.

Unless there are incentives for schools to take teaching citizenship seriously, it will be neglected. Until citizenship education feeds into league tables, schools will not take it seriously. Whenever there are budget cuts, the trained citizenship teacher is the first to go. This matters for the health of our political system. Core to a healthy democracy, as the report argues, is active citizenship, but that rests on citizens having an understanding—indeed, an appreciation—of the system of government, how it works, what it can do for them and how they can engage with it. The problem is compounded by a growing lack of trust in government; survey evidence is that this lack of trust in now severe.

Politicians are part of the problem, but they are also part of the solution. Recent surveys have shown a dramatic lack of trust, not so much in our political structures as in the people who occupy them. Remarkably, in an Ipsos survey in February, lack of faith in politics/politicians/government ranked fourth in the list of issues seen as the most important facing Britain today, after the economy, inflation and the NHS. A YouGov poll last year also found that the problem was more with politicians than political structures. As a response to lack of trust in the system of government, some politicians rush to advocate constitutional change. As with the recent report authored by Gordon Brown, the arguments for change are muddled and constitute a form of displacement activity. The problem is with those rushing to advocate change. This is something that I will develop in a debate next week; for the moment, my point is that politicians need to address not only their own behaviour—we need a major strengthening of standards of behaviour—but also the lack of knowledge about our system of government.

Ensuring that citizenship education is embedded in our schools is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for restoring trust. Parliament gets a bad press, one that it does not necessarily deserve. It suffers from what I would term the arrogance of ignorance. People pontificate about Parliament and parliamentarians with a self-assuredness that is not grounded in any serious knowledge of the subject. There is a tendency to generalise from an N of one or two. We need to address the behaviour of politicians to ensure that there is not one or two—or more—from which people can generalise, but there also needs to be wider public awareness of the structures, processes and behaviour and of what Parliament can do for them and how they can have some input into what it is doing. This is becoming more and more of an uphill task because of the unwillingness of politicians to acknowledge and address it. For the past few years, there has been a bunker mentality. Parliamentarians need to come out of the bunker and proactively take steps to address the problem, otherwise it is not going to go away.

The stance taken by the Government is self-defeating. It is in their own interest to take this seriously. I would like to hear from my noble friend not only a recognition of the seriousness of the problem, but a commitment to ensuring that citizenship education is embedded and that schools are incentivised to take it seriously. Some years ago, the House resolved that Select Committee reports should be debated in the House, ideally in prime time. Debating this report in Grand Committee does not do justice to the seriousness of the issue. We are debating a subject that is crucial to the health of our political system. It is a false economy on the part of Government not to recognise that and to act upon it. What the Prime Minister has said today about maths applies also to citizenship education. An anti-maths mindset may be damaging the economy. A failure to educate citizens about our system of government is damaging to the health of the British polity.

My Lords, I begin by paying tribute not only to the Liaison Committee for a very thorough job of work, but to our parliamentary system which provides for such committee. Its very existence and the reports that it produces make it more likely that important recommendations are put into effect, for it can show whether a Government have taken them on board—or not, as the case may be. Sadly, in the case of the recommendations of The Ties that Bind, it is the latter. What our Select Committee originally revealed—a very unsatisfactory situation—is shown by the Liaison Committee still to be highly unsatisfactory and very far indeed from what our committee thought it should be.

I believe that the need for citizenship and civic education highlighted in our 2018 report is even more pressing now than it was then, for we live in a world where there are not only dictatorships but managed democracies, democracies where human rights are not observed, and democracies where the rule of law is made subservient to political expediency. It is more important than ever that pupils coming out of our schools should have some grasp of the political system in which we live, its strengths as well as its weaknesses, and a sense of responsibility to live as an active citizen. That is, for the most part, simply not happening at the moment. Our report showed why, and the Liaison Committee’s report discloses the same fundamental failures.

The first issue, of course, concerns someone to take responsibility for this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, put it so powerfully: there must be a Minister in overall charge. It is only when someone such as that is in place that things happen—when there is someone who is accountable. Our original recommendation was that this person should be located in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, but it has a very broad remit. Of course, so much of citizenship education is actually academic education, so if the Government continue to be very resistant to the idea of putting somebody in charge in that department, perhaps they would reconsider and see whether the Minister of Education themselves should be responsible for this area, with particular responsibility to relate to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for that aspect of the work.

Secondly, as so many of your Lordships have emphasised, the situation as far as education itself is concerned is absolutely appalling. In so many schools, citizenship is taught only tangentially and in so many it is simply subsumed into PSHE. I will not repeat what has already been put so powerfully by other noble Lords, but imagine a school giving a wrong answer—as wrong as the answer we have disclosed—to Ofsted. Our recommendation is worth repeating:

“Citizenship should not be treated solely as part of pupils’ personal development. To do so is to misunderstand the nature of the subject in its entirety.”

Suppose a school gave an answer that totally misunderstood what it meant. What would Ofsted do about it? There would be black marks all over from any kind of examination system that gets that kind of report.

One aspect of democracy, and therefore of citizenship education, has to do with values—what has been termed fundamental British values. In its original report, the committee expressed concern about the wording of “fundamental British values” as originally conceived and suggested an alternative. Since then, I have tried to press this issue with a Private Member’s Bill, which sadly was not selected, and with amendments to the Schools Bill, which the Government sadly were unwilling to accept. The purpose of what I proposed was to give a much clearer definition of what should be taught under this subject. I will briefly repeat what I put forward:

“British values

(1) In any statement relating to British values for education purposes in England and Wales, the Secretary of State, OFSTED and any other public authority must include—

(a) democracy,

(b) the rule of law,

(c) freedom,

(d) individual worth, and

(e) respect for the environment.

(2) Any statement in subsection (1) must refer to British values as ‘values of British citizenship’.

(3) In subsection (1 )(c) ‘freedom’ includes—

(a) freedom of thought, conscience and religion,

(b) freedom of expression, and

(c) freedom of assembly and association.

(4) In subsection (1)(d) ‘individual worth’ means respect for the equal worth and dignity of every person.

(5) In subsection (l)(e) ‘respect for the environment’ means taking into account the systemic effect of human actions on the health and sustainability of the environment both within the United Kingdom and the planet as a whole, for present and future generations”.

I will continue to look for a legislative opportunity to bring about this change. If achieved, this will help give a much clearer notion of the nature of the democracy in which we live. The word “democracy” means everything and nothing. The majority of countries claim in some sense to be democratic, so it is necessary to state what we mean by the word; otherwise, pupils will grow up with an extremely vague and sometimes misleading idea of what it means, such as it meaning only elections. It means a great deal more than that.

As noble Lords have pointed out, it is not only important that Ofsted has a clear understanding of this subject and distinguishes it from PHSE; if the subject is going to be taught, it needs enough properly trained teachers. As we pointed out in our original report, and as the Liaison Committee emphasised and we mentioned again today, the Government have been unwilling to collect statistics on the number of trainee teachers in the subject or to put forward bursaries, as they are for other subjects, to attract teachers. That is another essential failure.

The Liaison Committee’s report several times looks forward to the then proposed White Paper on schools, in which it expected these serious concerns to be addressed. But there has been no White Paper, so where do we go from here? Who will address these concerns? Will the present Government do so? I am afraid the situation is lamentable. Major failings were exposed by our committee and the Liaison Committee has forcefully shown that the Government have not faced up to them. They are still glaringly obvious.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, began by saying that he thought we had failed. We may have failed to achieve our immediate objectives but I hope we will not think that we have failed totally. I mean no disrespect to the present Government but, with an election coming up in a limited period of time, there will be a new Government—speaking as a Cross-Bencher, it may be either Conservative or Labour—coming in with fresh ideas. Already, people are beavering away, writing their manifestos and putting into their party documents the kinds of achievements they want in future. I hope those noble Lords with political influence are already working with the people devising manifestos and future programmes for government to ensure that these absolutely valid recommendations are not lost. They must be carried forward and, somehow, within the next one, two or three years, we must bring them into effect.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond as a member of the Citizenship and Civic Engagement Committee and to state what a privilege it was to have served on it—as we have heard, it was appointed more than six years ago. I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson for being an excellent chair and, to quote my noble friend Lady Eaton, for his diligence and determination.

This evening, we are debating the follow-up inquiry report and the issues it highlights. Revisiting the 2018 report from the Liaison Committee and the Government’s response in May 2022, and taking into account the new policy context, including the levelling-up agenda—policy must be driven intrinsically, to link it and active citizenship—it is important to acknowledge that the 2022 inquiry showed what good progress has been made with the National Citizen Service.

Evidence states how good cross-government co-ordination can be in establishing clear routes and making timely and coherent progress, and creating new ideas for early implementation. Therefore, I support appointing a Minister with active responsibility for citizenship and civic engagement in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in the Bill currently going through the House, and for this to be included at Committee.

The levelling-up agenda must take into account consideration of the unequal landscape which we inherit and must challenge the norm to create those elusive opportunities, much harder for those in seemingly left-behind areas. That is where schools come into their own, whether situated in deprived or more affluent areas, as indeed do all educational establishments, which have such a significant role to play in developing essential life skills for our young people. In delivering those skills, timing is of the essence for citizenship to flourish, as is supporting citizens of all age groups and not putting a halt to defending our values for a vibrant society, which is the glue connecting everyone.

I ask my noble friend the Minister whether the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is being offered to all state secondary schools to access thousands of new activities and what take-up there has been for those areas applying for the £387 million for the youth investment fund and youth service. Which areas of the country have applied and which have ultimately been successful?

I welcome that the DfE recently announced additional resources to support high-quality teaching of citizenship content, as good quality data and feedback is needed to achieve successful outcomes for trainee citizenship teachers to further enhance their roles and responsibilities. I emphasise that citizenship education should be taught without being bundled into other subjects, valued for its importance to society, and delivered on the basis of a non-political bias.

How responsive the Government would seem if the Home Office delivered, as stated, its intention to carry out a major update on the Life in the UK Test as part of wider nationality reforms as soon as practicable. This test is hugely important, because one mistake can make the difference between an application to live here failing and succeeding. The handbook should ensure people know the principles underlying British society. Answers to questions such as how to call emergency services, report a crime or register with a GP seem not to be in the handbook, which is questionable. I ask the Minister whether the Home Office will carry out any consultation on the composition of questions to be asked before an update is reprinted.

Finally, I again emphasise just how important it is to support those vital opportunities to capture and gain real-life skills for our young citizens, wherever their communities are. All of this must play an integral part in the levelling-up agenda, and in enriching their lives and, appropriately, as the title of the report portrays, the ties that bind.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, not least for his tenacity in bringing these reports again and again to the attention of Ministers. I say that because it is particularly galling to see the evident indifference of successive Ministers to these reports, which have been the subject of a great deal of work, thought and consideration. It is really important. Citizenship is becoming increasingly fragile. We have a Government at the moment who, remarkably, in the wake of Windrush, seem to spend more energy and time devising innovative means to deny or deprive individuals of citizenship. I truly believe that citizenship, the ties that bind us, is a crucially important part of a healthy society which lives at peace with itself in all its diversity.

I just want to take my time to pick up on a couple of things. The first is the National Citizen Service. Since its inception, I have been sceptical about the organisation. I have never disagreed with its basic premise: that young people can and should be encouraged to develop their personal skills by taking part in projects or short programmes which benefit communities. Every Government for the last 30 years have had programmes which have tried to mitigate the effects of unemployment and bring about community benefit through volunteering. My objection has always been that the NCS, despite having no intrinsic unique value, just high-profile political endorsement, was awarded royal charter body status, which it neither needed nor deserved, and that in an area where resources are really scarce, it continues to devour the lion’s share of what is available. That is despite a lack of evidence that it either delivers better tangible results than other organisations or is the most cost-effective option.

In both of our reports, we talked to the representatives of the NCS and also to Ministers to try and understand what it was doing and where it fitted in with everything else. We were so alarmed about the lack of resources for training and for schools. We particularly talked to both about the role of the NCS. We got a reply from the Ministers that said that the

“National Citizen Service Trust’s primary function is to provide and arrange for the provision of programmes for 16 and 17 year olds in England. National Citizen Service Trust works closely with hundreds of schools through the Skills Booster initiative to deliver, or help deliver, curriculum resources to support young people’s personal development, volunteering and social action”.

I spend a lot of time looking at the NCS’s reports; I recommend that people do that. If you look at the latest available report, the NCS says that it facilitated the return to education of 60,000 young people in 400 institutions. As far as I can see, that was about support to young people trying to return to it after all the difficulties of lockdown. It cites itself as working on issues such as communication, teamwork, goal setting and planning. Well, that is fine, but quite why the NCS should do this, as opposed to any other educational support services, is really not clear to me. I really have to question the work of the NCS.

A point that I have made before is that the NCS commissions its own evaluation, and the evaluations which it has had are not comparative in any way, so it marks its own homework. You get lots and lots of statistics which, in and of themselves, are very interesting, but they really do not prove that this body is the best way to deliver outcomes. So I yet again ask the Minister when there will be a review of the NCS which is undertaken independently and which places it within the context of the two reports that we have produced. Its reports talk about it being part of a sort of ecosystem of youth support, local government and all of that, but it really does come across when you go to see it as much more of a lone ranger pursuing its own objectives.

The second thing that I, too, want to talk about is the Life in the UK test. I commend the work of the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of my formidable colleague, my noble friend Lady Hamwee. On 28 June last year, it wrote Kevin Foster MP a letter which I would say was polite but firm. In it, it was very clear; it said that the stakes for anybody taking a Life in the UK test are “very high”; if you fail that test, you may find yourself being deported, losing your income, and failing to get your indefinite leave to remain, so it is a really important and profound thing. It also said that it was really important that

“social cohesion, education, active participation, and the celebration of prospective citizens and permanent residents”

should all be at the heart of demonstrating sufficient knowledge about life in the UK. But it has said, and members of the committee have endorsed this, is that frankly, to people sitting that test, it is baffling. They are asked questions which they simply do not understand, and they do not understand why they are being asked these questions and what they will do to help them be any more fully engaged in society.

The committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested that yet again we were having a promise of a review. It has been years since this review has been promised but what we really need and I am glad the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, has had an email, I do not think I have—

I am sorry, I think I may have imagined or misread an email from earlier in the day, so I am sorry if I have sent hares running. I apologise.

Okay, I am not going to go chasing hares. We need a timetable for the start of this review and for its completion because it has been dragging on for so long, it is an embarrassment.

I was particularly taken by the description that said that the history section of the Life in the UK test is insensitive and embarrassing. It truly is. It is so full of subjective views of our history. As the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern said, all sorts of practical information that every individual might need to live life in this country is not there.

One other thing that nobody has yet talked about is the lack of availability of centres to take the test and the not inconsiderable cost of sitting the test. By the time you have bought the book and booked everything up it can be in excess of £300 to do this test on which your future rests.

All roads round, I think it is quite clear that the Government have for far too long just dragged their heels on this. I think it is an initiative that was started by a Labour Government. It was always going to be contentious but everybody accepts it could be an enormously valuable contribution to citizenship for communities. I do not know whether Members have gone along to a local citizenship ceremony but it is a lovely thing to watch communities celebrating and welcoming people to come and live.

I simply say to the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, that she is on a very unfortunate wicket this afternoon but I hope that she will not be, like a long line of her predecessors, somebody who bats us off with very little detail and no commitments because we do ourselves an injustice if we let this go any further.

My Lords, I declare an interest, as my husband, who is Norwegian, is currently studying towards the Life in the UK test which is mentioned in the committee’s report and to which I will refer during this debate.

I add my words commending both committees for their important work and their unceasing commitment to holding the Government to account over many years. As the report and several noble Lords have said during the debate this afternoon, there is a long way to go when it comes to supporting members of the public to have a thorough and rich engagement in civic society. I also commend the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and say that in his opening reflections on the work of the committee he was probably a little too harsh in his school report card on the impact of the work of the committee but spot on on the continued importance and need for young people to understand how to be good citizens and make their voices heard. There clearly is a need for the Government and Ofsted to take citizenship more seriously.

What struck me and has been evident in this debate is that is clear that there have been missed opportunities in the citizenship test, the National Citizenship Service and teaching citizenship in schools. It is evident that there are multiple serious deficiencies in the Government’s approach and I seek assurances on some of these today.

My noble friend Lady Morris and others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, were clear that where the Government value things, they have the option of assigning a Minister. I agree that this is normally the case. Will the Minister tell us in her remarks if this is going to be addressed?

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, like many of those speaking, described citizenship teaching in very strong terms, I think calling it “appalling”. I was particularly struck by the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, on the teaching of citizenship in schools and the downgrading of subjects, leading to an ever decreasing number of teachers.

The Liaison Committee’s follow-up report finds that, despite warm words, citizenship education is not yet a priority for the Government’s schools strategy. Damningly, as highlighted by many noble Lords during this debate, the report finds that Ofsted does not take citizenship education seriously. I agree with noble Lords that PSHE is not the same as citizenship, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is right in differentiating between the “I/me” of PSHE and the “we/us” of citizenship. They should be treated as separate and distinct subjects.

I was particularly struck—I think someone else also noted this—by the quote in the report from James Weinberg, who said that

“those in the top quintile for household income are five times more likely to participate in political activities”.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, said, the removal of barriers to democratic activity is vital. She is right that this is an issue for the levelling-up agenda and for government. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, also noted that this is lacking from the levelling-up Bill, while the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, noted the opportunity this Bill might present to government as it goes through the parliamentary process. As my noble friend Lady Morris said, on any other subject, the inadequacies pointed out in the quote from James Weinberg would have been addressed. If active citizenship means anything, it must include active participation in civic life, including political activities of all types, whether party-political—as most noble Lords have chosen—or issue-based activism. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, noted, active citizenship can also extend to volunteering and the voluntary sector, the growth and health of which we would all want to encourage.

I was concerned that the Government’s response to the report said that many of the recommendations on Ofsted were “a matter for the Chief Inspector”, although I note that their response to recommendation 12 acknowledged engagement between the department and the inspectorate. How will the Minister ensure that, going forward, Ofsted is equipped with the right training to assess the quality of citizenship education effectively? Labour is committed to reforming statutory citizenship provision within the national curriculum, placing a particular focus on practical life skills and employment skills, for example.

I turn to the Life in the UK test, which, as has been noted, is a gateway to becoming a UK citizen or having a permanent right of residence, and which is rightly being criticised. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, queried some subjective choices of questions. As someone who studied literature, I would say that all choices of questions are subjective; but there is an active choice to be made and at the moment, the questions as outlined are probably not most the appropriate.

As recently as last week, Durham University published a study that found that prospective candidates are being asked to memorise ridiculous trivia such as the height of the London Eye, and that the test is riddled with errors such as an incorrect date for the death of the late Baroness Thatcher. As I mentioned, my husband is Norwegian and is studying for the test. When I test him on the questions, he sometimes corrects me. He was clearly right when adamant that the answer to a model test question on the Vikings was incorrect. As the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, noted, one “wrong” answer can make a difference to the applicant. I would struggle to persuade my husband to give the wrong answer to a question about the Vikings.

While the pub quiz is a very real and valuable aspect of British culture, I cannot believe that the Minister would agree that it is the best model for testing whether people seeking to become British citizens understand what this means. Can the Minister tell us either the height of the London Eye—or why this type of information is relevant? Can she tell us when the handbook might be updated, rather than simply repeating what the report says: that the Government are committed to setting out their plans to update it? I would be grateful if she could explain why the Government cannot just get on with updating the handbook, and if she could press her government colleagues—accepting that it is a different department—to avoid kicking this into the long grass.

Finally, the last we heard from the Government was that the Inter-Ministerial Group on Safe and Integrated Communities has not met since 2019. Notwithstanding the fact that we have had a pandemic—we are no longer at its height—will the Minister say whether the group is still not meeting and, if so, whether it has been wound down or replaced with anything else? It is too crucial an agenda to be allowed to drift.

It is clear from the debate and everything noble Lords have said that citizenship matters, not simply because of legal status but because of values—values of loyalty fostered through feeling as though you belong. In this context, I found an article on the Migration Observatory website, Citizenship: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?, particularly thought provoking, covering both the legal status of citizenship and ideas of belonging. Surely, we want people of all ages, and our new citizens, not just to know that they are legally British but to be proud of our country and of the contribution they can make to its future, and to be proud because they feel that they belong. We want them to feel this pride irrespective of what language they speak at home or where they were born.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for mentioning the NCS, because we did not cover it very widely in the debate. As she noted, it could do more to foster citizenship. I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on her proposal of a review.

In today’s challenging world of online conspiracy theories, culture wars and, notably, the prohibitive voter ID laws from the Government, a firm commitment to building a strong and resilient society that builds up trust in politics and politicians must be at the heart of public policy-making. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, said that politicians are part of the problem, but he was absolutely right to say that they are also part of the solution. I hope the Minister can assure us that the Government are committed to being part of the solution, taking the recommendations of both committees seriously and acting on them sooner than the formal response suggests that they might.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts for securing this debate and for his skilful chairmanship of the committee and all noble Lords who contributed to the report and who have spoken today.

The Government agree with the committee that citizenship education and civic engagement opportunities are essential parts of a well-functioning democratic society. My noble friend focused in particular on curriculum and teaching and the Government’s role in that and in relation to Ofsted. I agree with other noble Lords that those things are fundamental but need to be linked to opportunities for young people to explore citizenship in practice or in real life. In terms of our approach, linking those two things is the golden thread that runs through the Government’s policy.

A number of your Lordships, including the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, questioned the absence of a dedicated Minister. That might be worthy of debate in its own right. As your Lordships know, the Government currently do not have plans to appoint a Minister in this area. Responsibility for chairing the Inter-Ministerial Group on Levelling Up sits clearly with the Secretary of State in DLUHC, and that group oversees delivery across the 12 levelling-up missions, with a real focus on empowering local leaders. A number of your Lordships raised the importance of this being owned locally. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, for reminding the House about the different “capitals”, in particular the social capital pillar, with its focus on the strengths of communities, relationships and trust.

We believe that key to achieving this is that empowerment of local communities, which is why there has been such a focus on devolution. Not only do we have an interministerial group but we also have an independent advisory council, advising the Government on their approach to place-based policy, including the role of local communities and social infrastructure in levelling up.

On education specifically, as your Lordships have put more eloquently than I can, a high-quality citizenship curriculum gives extraordinary opportunities for pupils to understand their place in the world, in their local communities, in their country and globally. Citizenship is an important national curriculum subject at key stages 3 and 4, and all schools are encouraged to teach it as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, was not the only person who painted a bleak picture of the state of citizenship education. I will shed a little light on that bleakness. We saw a 5.9% increase in the number of GCSE candidates taking citizenship studies in the summer of 2022, compared to 2021. That was up 19.5% from 2018, to just under 21,500 students. On teacher numbers, my noble friend Lady Eaton—forgive me if it was another noble Lord—suggested that teacher numbers had halved. Actually, since 2018, teacher numbers have declined slightly, but from 4,451 to 4,152 in 2022—not the dramatic decline that was suggested.

We also now have the Oak National Academy, which became an arm’s-length body in September 2022 and provides adaptable and optional support for schools. New curriculum packages are being developed, including in relation to citizenship, so that every school can be confident that there is a high-quality and well-sequenced curriculum that it can follow if it wishes.

Your Lordships also made a number of recommendations on the inspection of citizenship teaching. The department expects citizenship to be considered a significant part of Ofsted’s routine inspections. In contrast to your Lordships’ remarks this evening, we are satisfied that the current approach achieves this in a proportionate way. Ofsted has confirmed that evidence on citizenship is considered in every inspection, including the extent to which schools are preparing pupils for life in modern Britain effectively, through relationship education, citizenship and the promotion of fundamental British values.

My noble friend Lord Norton of Louth asked what action is being taken to make sure that there is compliance with the committee’s recommendations. Of course, Ofsted is an independent arm’s-length body of the Government, but I am happy to ask His Majesty’s chief inspector to respond to your Lordships’ various suggestions and reflections on citizenship not being properly understood within the curriculum or adequately covered within Ofsted inspections.

In response to my noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, about the approach that Ofsted uses, I think it would be unfair to suggest that Ofsted does not have high expectations for citizenship in schools. As with other subjects, Ofsted expects the curriculum to be structured to enable pupils to build knowledge through clear sequences of lessons and any other activities that schools may organise.

I turn now to teaching. The report, as your Lordships reminded us, made recommendations relating to investment in the school workforce. Obviously, the Government are very focused on recruitment and retention of all teachers, including in relation to citizenship, and recruitment to citizenship initial teacher training courses is unrestricted for providers. Citizenship teachers are of course eligible for tuition fee and maintenance loans, but we have focused on particular shortage subjects in relation to bursaries.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, talked about the amendment he put down to the Schools Bill, and a number of the elements he set out clearly in that amendment are explicitly covered in the citizenship curriculum. More broadly, your Lordships will be aware that the department published its sustainability and climate change strategy, which was developed together with young people. That really sets out how seriously we take climate change and the environment, which is an important part of the sense of being a citizen for many young people, within the department. As part of that, we have announced a national education nature park and climate action awards scheme, which will give educational opportunities for young people to take part in citizen science as well as a number of other activities.

On the National Citizen Service, as I said in my opening remarks, our vision as a Government is not only that young people have opportunities to learn about citizenship and gain the knowledge that they need in order to be responsible and active citizens but that they are given opportunities to, if you like, do citizenship and participate. That is why the new National Citizen Service is investing more than £20 million over two years in community experiences with a real focus on social action, volunteering and civic participation.

I was quite surprised at the tone of the remarks from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, because the National Citizen Service has evolved its delivery model, partly in response to your Lordships’ recommendations. I thought it might have got a green tick for its response. First, there is a much greater focus on partnership—working with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector—as well as much greater engagement with schools through the skills booster programme, which the noble Baroness referred to. That programme has now been accessed by about 7,000 schools—about a third of the schools in this country—which is major progress from the figures the noble Baroness mentioned.

Officials within DCMS and the Department for Education are continuing to explore opportunities to improve access to active citizenship, including through promoting the NCS. Over 100,000 young people took part in NCS experiences in 2022, with the new, reformed programme starting this year. The new programme is open to all 16 and 17 year-olds, with support available for the most disadvantaged.

My noble friend Lady Eaton and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked about the impact of NCS. The independent research undertaken by the Behavioural Insights Team showed that completing the National Citizen Service programme leads to a 12% increase in participation in politics, so, if that were to be modelled across all 16 to 25 year-olds, they would be the second-highest participating age group, as opposed to the second-lowest, which is where they are today. Research by Kantar also showed that the NCS statistically increases levels of social trust, which your Lordships, including the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, rightly highlighted as a matter of importance.

We are making excellent progress against the national youth guarantee commitments, which my noble friend Lady Redfern asked about. Since September 2021, government funding supported over 11,500 more young people to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in school. Some 2,000 more places have been created for uniformed youth groups in cold spots since September 2022, and £90 million of the £300 million youth investment fund has been allocated to 43 organisations to rebuild and renovate youth centres in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas. The new NCS programme has, in effect, double the investment in 53 priority areas, providing the same focus on those areas that need support most.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, mentioned Community Action Suffolk. I remember my very happy visit with her to Community Action Suffolk to see its great work. However, we know that volunteering more broadly is one of the top three priority activities identified by over 6,000 young people in the 2021 Youth Review. The National Youth Social Action Survey 2019 found that young people were eager to make a difference, with 88% saying that they

“cared about making the world a better place”.

Last year, 434,492 votes were cast by young people engaged in the UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark campaign, which was up 18.5% from 2020. The national youth guarantee is supporting local youth volunteering opportunities via the #iwill fund, through which it is projected that over 695,000 youth social action opportunities will be created by March 2027.

My noble friend Lady Eaton asked about the percentage of the funding in the national youth guarantee that goes specifically towards citizenship. It is genuinely quite difficult to separate that out, because, as the report described, there is a civic journey, and the plan with the national youth guarantee is to encourage young people along that journey.

On the Home Office’s Life in the UK Test, your Lordships’ report recommended that the Government set up an advisory group with a diverse and expert membership to review the test within 12 months. The Government are clear that the Home Office will need to engage a range of experts and stakeholders when undertaking the review, but at this stage they cannot commit to setting up such an advisory group. My noble friend Lord Hodgson and others asked about the timing of when the plans will be published to update the Life in the UK handbook, and I can confirm that that will happen in the second half of this year. In response to the critique of the test from the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, I say that 91% of candidates who took the test in the last 12 months said that they were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the service they received.

What I heard from your Lordships this evening was very critical of the Government in our response to specific recommendations in your Lordships’ reports. Your Lordships expressed a real concern that there needs to be a coherence and a focus on how the Government are tackling the important issue of citizenship. As I have acknowledged in my speech, there are absolutely areas where the Government have not adopted the recommendations made in your Lordships’ reports, but I hope that your Lordships will also acknowledge that, while we may not approach it in exactly the way they have recommended, there is a coherence to what we are doing to try to bring together that knowledge of the curriculum, the rigour of inspection and the practical experiences that we offer young people.

We know that we need to offer young people a range and a choice of activities and focus on those which we know, from evidence, make the most difference to civic participation. Of course, that includes volunteering and activities that, by design, bring young people from different communities together, as well, of course, as giving young people the knowledge and the confidence to think independently, to think critically, and to be responsible citizens. I genuinely thank all noble Lords for their engagement on these incredibly important topics. My noble friend talked about tying the pink ribbon around the report. I reassure the Committee that we are not tying any pink ribbon yet around our work in this area: we will continue to strive to deliver on the aspiration of your Lordships’ reports.

My Lords, the Order Paper for today says that the Committee will rise at 7.45 pm. It is now some way past 7.45 pm, and it therefore behoves the chairman not to detain the Committee any longer than is strictly necessary. Therefore, let me just make a couple of quick points. First, I thank my noble friend for a very full and thoughtful reply. There were lots of statistics in there, which I look forward to having a chance to read and inwardly digest—I could not very well take them on as they came at me, but they all sounded very impressive.

When a chairman gets things wrong, he ought to say so. Well, “the pink ribbon” was not about giving up on the subject. I think we should go on with the subject until the walls of Jericho fall and we sound the trumpet. I think we should definitely do that—the pink ribbon is just that the committee has now really run its course, and that is why I used that phrase. Secondly, I wrongly attributed “me” and “we” to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I should of course have attributed it to the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, so let me correct that.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, took slight issue with my use of the word “failure”. They are probably right. Probably, the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, got it right in saying “indifference”. I think that is the right word, rather than failure. We have lit a bit of a fire, but it is really only sputtering along, and indifference remains the prevailing view of it, I think—though, as I say, we must read carefully what my noble friend the Minister said.

We had some powerful speeches about the Minister, the importance of the Minister and the importance of education. Among them, as would befit an ex-Secretary of State for Education and a current professor at a university, were powerful voices from those who know what is really going on on the inside.

I shall just take a slightly querulous point of view about the Life in the UK test. My noble friend Lady Eaton may have set a hare running, but there is no hare: we are no further forward than we were three, four, five or six years ago. It is always going to be “in the autumn”, and this autumn never comes. I do hope we can now make it happen, because if you read the reports, it is always, “We are about to set up a group”, “We are going to do it”, “It is very important”—blah blah blah—“but it will take a little time, and we will come back to you when we are ready”. I do think we need to get that right.

I do not doubt my noble friend’s commitment to this—absolutely, she showed that this evening. Where I felt that I was listening to a very strange set of words was when she was quoting Ofsted. I think that Ofsted talks the talk, but it does not walk the walk. I really do not. It sends wonderful messages to the Minister and her officials, and the result is that that is regurgitated to us. I understand why that happens, but I do not think it is happening down on the ground, unless Ofsted has gone on a Damascene conversion in the last 12 months. All the interactions that we had with Ofsted showed that it was not interested, not committed and did not really care about this. If I add a last request, it would be for my noble friend to act as Dyno-Rod in connection to Ofsted and citizenship education.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 8.10 pm.