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Lord Dubs: My Lords, first, I make it clear that unless there is default, we are not talking of new legislation in relation to the Good Friday agreement, apart from obtaining parliamentary approval for devolution, which we hope will take place next Tuesday.

Therefore, the parity of esteem point arises in relation to the terms of the overall approach based on the Good Friday agreement rather than anything stemming directly from today's Statement. However, as regards parity of esteem, I believe that we are talking about respect by one community or religion for the other; equality of treatment of both communities and members of both communities; and respect for the human rights of all communities. Such an approach reflects what is meant by "parity of esteem". Moreover, taking further the point made by my noble friend Lord Blease, I believe that there is an overwhelming wish on the part of the people of Northern Ireland to show respect for each other in the future.

Lord Monson: My Lords, the Minister explained parity of esteem extremely well. But how much parity of esteem is there for the Unionist tradition South of the Border?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am not sure that I am qualified to comment on that. Indeed, I do not have

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sufficient knowledge. The noble Lord must address that question to the people who live in the Republic in order to learn their views.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, the Statement refers to what will happen if there is a default in implementing decommissioning. From what the Minister said about what the IRA has put in its statement, I do not understand that that encompasses implementing decommissioning rather than merely giving an assurance to discuss the matter.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I do not believe that I can go further other than to say that the IRA made a statement, some of which I quoted. It says that:

    "The IRA is committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland".

It has said also:

    "In our view, the Good Friday Agreement is a significant development and we believe that its full implementation will contribute to the achievement of lasting peace".

I believe that that statement plus, of course, the overwhelming support for this process at which George Mitchell arrived and George Mitchell's statement to that effect all point the way to an extremely positive way forward.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

4.17 p.m.

Debate resumed.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, first, I rise to welcome the Government's determination to identify and meet the needs of post-school learners, sometimes described as the Cinderella sector of our educational provision. The Churches, whose Joint Education Policy Committee I have the privilege to chair, have made a significant contribution to lifelong learning partnerships in many parts of the country, building on their long experience and networks in FE and industrial chaplaincies, in adult education and in youth and community work. They have hosted a variety of events in the past year with the FE sector and the TECs to support the development of effective partnerships. They are now looking for a strong steer from Her Majesty's Government to ensure that all the 47 learning and skill councils will engage seriously with the Churches in those lifelong learning partnerships.

It is important that in the proper concern for the improvement of skills in the training programme, we do not forget that basic understanding of the need for learning which the Secretary of State, the right honourable David Blunkett, described in terms of developing,

    "a civilised society and the spiritual side of life".

We must never forget, as Dean Inge put it, that "education is about values". I believe that the Government do see the clear links between two of their key priorities: economic competitiveness on the one

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hand and social inclusion on the other. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, will remember her important contribution to the Church's conference on the purpose of post-16 education which was held just a year ago.

Given the very strong economic and planning emphasis in the White Paper Learning to Succeed, we need some reassurance that the wider personal and social dimensions will be given due weight in the current decision-making process. Sound education must be concerned with the whole of a person's life and not just with their ability to find work, important though that is, not only for those individuals concerned but, indeed, for the well-being of our society.

As part of their response to the Christian Gospel imperative "to make whole", the Churches will seek to continue to make a significant contribution to widening participation and social inclusion through their community outreach work. In recognition of the value that they place on such grassroots work, this year, for the first time, they have been pleased ecumenically to sponsor one of the Association of Colleges Beacon Awards for sustainable community development. We now welcome the possibility of the Church being able to access funding directly for the lifelong learning opportunities that it offers. Reports from parishes in my diocese tell me that much of that community-based learning makes a dramatic difference to people's lives and opportunities. It is about more than paper qualifications, important though such qualifications are for motivating some people to learn.

The White Paper makes little reference to the funding of non-accredited learning. Today I would welcome an indication of the Government's thinking on that matter. Funding regimes for such learning will need to recognise the lengthier time-scale required if traditional non-learners are to succeed. Achievement must not be narrowly defined; achievement must be available in bite-sized chunks about which the University of Industry has spoken.

The experience of the Churches in youth work with marginalised groups in many of our socially deprived areas suggests that the best of intended programmes will fail and be a waste of precious funds unless they begin to deal with what is required on the young people's terms, rather than by forcing an externally imposed and target-driven agenda on them. We look forward to making a major contribution to the proposed youth support service and to the lifelong learning partnerships.

It is good to note that that will not be done at the expense of the Government's commitment to their programme for schools. The other day I was particularly pleased to learn that £80 million is to be made available for administrative support in small schools. That will relieve hard-pressed teaching head teachers in our rural schools. Head teachers of such schools in my own diocese have been pressing the Department for Education and Employment for that for some time. I thank the department on their behalf.

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We must appreciate the pressures on the staff in rural schools arising from the effect on families of the crisis in agriculture. It is a great sadness to me that there is no mention of agriculture or of any proposed measures in the gracious Speech to help that part of our national life. Almost daily I receive reports of farming families in serious difficulties. We all realise that the rate of suicide among farmers--not just among the hill farmers of the northern Pennines, but across the whole sector--is quite alarming.

I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Countryside Agency and in relation to the National Access Forum in welcoming the introduction of legislation to give greater access to the countryside and to give greater protection to wildlife. However, like the issue of hunting with dogs, I believe that those matters are of far less significance than the need to reflect much more fully in public policies and practical programmes help to meet the needs of rural communities and in particular those engaged in agriculture and related industries. I hope that the rural White Paper will do that and that it will seek to overcome the seeming divide that sometimes exists between urban and rural people as if we are not all part of one nation.

The Countryside Agency has done much in preparation for the introduction of the legislation on greater access. In the difficult situation of bringing the Countryside Commission and part of the Rural Development Commission together, I have been impressed to watch the staff of that new body get down to the detailed work required, at times in the face of some pretty aggressive opposition from some landowners and others.

I hope that in due time access will be extended to woodland, the coast and watersides, but with the necessary safeguards for fragile environments. For me, access and the freedom to roam begin with a theological question: whose countryside is it? Who should have the right to be reinvigorated and refreshed by the thrill of open spaces, lonely places and wide skies? Although I believe that relatively few people will stray from paths, wider access and a concern for rights of way must be managed. In order to achieve that, funding will be required to provide signing, ranger services, measures to enable access for the disabled, and to meet the management concerns of those who farm or care for the landscape. As with the present rights-of-way legislation, if the objective is to be achieved, finance will be required. We must not underestimate that.

My experience of the National Access Forum is that a good start has been made with a positive approach to matters which I have found divide people at a deep and even an emotional level where head and heart come together.

I hope that that measure will be coupled with a better rural proofing of the Government's wider policies with the help of the Countryside Agency so that access and right to roam are not seen--as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, hinted--by farmers and others as yet one more oppressive measure in a time of crisis, but as an opportunity which may

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help to provide more rural services and to give townspeople a greater awareness of our landscape and of the needs of those who live there and manage it. Resources may then be more readily shared which will meet the great needs of the countryside today and yet preserve it for tomorrow. I hope that the White Paper will give us such a long-term strategy, but I believe that there are no quick or easy fixes by which to achieve that.

4.36 p.m.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships are aware that there are a number of cupboards dotted around this building with large and imposing doors. I have blundered into one or two of them in the past few weeks while attempting to learn the geography of your Lordships' House. It is a measure of the warmth and welcome that I have received since I arrived here that I am not cowering in one of those cupboards now as I am faced with the challenge of speaking in your Lordships' House for the first time. I also pay tribute to the enormous tact and forbearance of the staff and Officers of the House as this particular "new bug" has been finding her feet.

I recall that my noble friend Lord Lipsey described a nightmare that visited him as he prepared to give his maiden speech. In the dream he rose to speak and was immediately removed by two Officers of the House. I may have the detail slightly wrong, but I believe that was the gist of it. My personal nightmare is a little different. In my worst imaginings I rise and find that I have nothing to say, that my power of self-expression has left me and I am silent.

As I stand before your Lordships, albeit unsteadily and clutching this unfamiliar prop, it is evident that such fears are not being realised at this moment. For that blessing I am grateful for two things: parents who encouraged debate and an education--entirely at the state's expense--that introduced me early to the idea that language, especially when it is spoken or performed, is an essential tool for unlocking the imagination.

I was fortunate to attend a small village school in the 1950s which was run by a head teacher of quite remarkable gifts. His name was Vicars Bell, and in his day he was recognised as a significant contributor to educational thinking. I suspect that his methods, which were a bit chaotic, and perhaps did not always include sufficient attention to the "Rithmetic bit of the three Rs", would find little favour in today's bracing environment. But his greatness lay in his conviction that children could learn through exposure to the arts.

Our young lives were filled every day with music--we learned dozens of English folk songs, for instance, many of which I can still sing, although I shall not attempt to prove that now--with dance and, above all, with books and poems that he read aloud to us and plays which we performed. He introduced us to Dickens, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Keats, Shelley and the Bible--it was a Church of England school. If he were alive now, he would doubtless be sharing Ted Hughes or Carol Ann Duffey or Harry Potter with an

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audience of rapt seven year-olds. He did not make much concession to "suitability", believing as I do that children are capable of understanding far more than we usually give them credit for. The group which left that school at the same time as I did was very mixed. Several were from what we would now call "disadvantaged" backgrounds. Some did well academically and some did not. But none of us was illiterate and all of us had been given a gift--the confidence to speak for ourselves.

Your Lordships may be wondering what this evocation of a prelapsarian age (with perhaps an uncomfortable hint of warm beer and bicycles) has to do with today's business. But I hope that that will become clear.

It is no surprise, but very gratifying, to note that the gracious Speech reaffirms a strong commitment on the part of the Government to education. I should like to refer to an earlier government initiative which I hope will be followed up in the year ahead. An admirable report was published recently, commissioned jointly by the Department for Education and Employment and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Your Lordships may remember that it was called All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. In his introduction to the report, the chairman of the committee which produced it, Professor Kenneth Robinson, said,

    "By creative education we mean forms of education that develop young people's capacities for original ideas and action: by cultural education we mean forms of education that enable them to engage positively with the growing complexity and diversity of social values and ways of life".

I imagine there are few in this House, or outside it, who would think such an approach to education an actively bad thing, but in practice, as the report points out, the importance which the Government understandably attached to the technical skills of numeracy and literacy may have resulted in effort being concentrated in those areas somewhat to the exclusion of other, broader objectives. Again the report said:

    "We accept the need for a sustained strategy for literacy and numeracy, but it is vital that this emphasis ... should not marginalise other areas of intellectual and personal development which are equally important in the early years and during primary school".

As the right reverend Prelate said, education is about values.

The point of my raising these matters is that it gives me the opportunity to draw attention to the contribution which arts organisations can, and do, make in helping to develop these educational ideas. Many of them have within them skills which go far beyond the mere (if I may use that word without offence) presentation of finished works of art, performed or otherwise. I should like to mention some examples which demonstrate the value of combining the skills of arts practitioners with the needs of the education system. In doing so I should declare an interest in that I work for the National Theatre, to which my examples are in different ways connected, although a huge amount of work is of course also being done elsewhere.

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Those noble Lords who pay close attention to the newspapers may have noticed an article a few days ago in the education section of the Daily Mail. It described a weekend event, which I attended, in which more than 60 students and teachers from a number of secondary schools around the country came together at St Thomas's Hospital to explore issues of medical ethics. They were joined by a dazzlingly high-powered group of clinical experts, by representatives from two different theatre companies--the National Theatre and Y Touring, which has special expertise in using theatre to tackle complex scientific and medical questions--and by 15 playwrights.

Over two days, the young people got to grips with problems that tax the minds not just of medical professionals but also of government--and they did it by making drama. The results were diverse, thoughtful, occasionally hilarious and consistently illuminating. Everyone involved learnt from the experience, but it was particularly noticeable how articulate the students became as they were able to express and "own" their opinions through performance. It was an inspiring event, and the great thing is that it was only the beginning. This collaboration among Guy's, King's and St Thomas's Medical School, the theatre companies, the playwrights and the schools will go on, reaching many more people, all through next year and beyond--provided the money can be found.

Primary Shakespeare is a programme developed through a pilot partnership between National Theatre Education and eight inner London primary schools. It focuses on Shakespearean text, using it as a catalyst for literacy and creative writing, and for curriculum enrichment extending into music, design and technology. It is designed for teachers and children in years five and six.

Teachers who participated in the pilot scheme made the following points: two-thirds of the class are bilingual learners and often talk in half sentences with an immature grasp of language. The fact that Shakespeare's language is unusual and poetic made the students think about the structure and impact of words and language.

Special needs children were involved and supported through drama and writing workshops; it was excellent for their writing skills. The development of self-esteem and confidence was remarkable. It was stimulating working with professionals, enabling the children to develop such a love of Shakespeare and the theatre. This present year six feel so confident with Shakespeare that they are busy rehearsing A Midsummer Night's Dream as their end-of-year play. They will never forget this, and it is about time we had something unforgettable! They just loved the iambic pentameters--they spoke in iambic pentameters all week.

National Connections, a large-scale project supported until recently by one generous sponsor, has for the past six years used the resources of the National Theatre, first, to commission from established

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playwrights (including, for instance, Alan Ayckbourn) plays for young people to perform and then to co-ordinate a nationwide collaboration among schools, youth groups and professional theatres in order to produce them. Over the six years, in three two-year cycles, dozens of schools and youth groups all over the UK were involved. Children and young people of all ages and abilities took part, and a representative sample of the work they produced was presented at the National Theatre over 10 gruelling but exhilarating days at the end of each cycle.

This July the latest, and possibly the last, of these festivals took place (sadly, the sponsor's support has come to an end). For everyone who participated, but most of all for the young people, the experience was genuinely life-changing. Their view of themselves, of what they could achieve, was immeasurably enhanced. They acquired new skills, learnt new language. They spoke for themselves, and were heard.

In a Chamber devoted to advocacy and debate I need not stress the potency of language. Metaphor, imagery, rhetoric are the common currency of this House--tempered always, of course, by the sobering effect of facts. Not to have command of language is, to use the jargon, disempowering. The arts, and in particular the performing arts, in giving young people a voice, can help them to develop the confidence they need to become good citizens. We are not short of the human resource to make this happen. Unfortunately we do not always have the financial resource to make the best use of it.

I appreciate that the Government have done a great deal since they came into office to encourage and support the relationship between the arts and education. But I would hope that, in driving their excellent policies forward, my noble friend Lady Blackstone and her colleagues will consider how much more could be achieved and what beneficial effects could be felt across many of their principal areas of concern if still more were invested in this fruitful cross-fertilisation.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, as someone passionately interested in the arts, a regular visitor to the National Theatre, to which the noble Baroness has made such an immensely distinguished contribution, and someone equally enthusiastic about opera, it gives me enormous pleasure to congratulate, on behalf of the whole House, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, on her outstanding speech. As I listened to her I wished that she could emerge perhaps from time to time from the executive director's office and appear on the stage of the National Theatre. But its loss is our gain. It is perhaps appropriate that she should appear on this stage on the day on which the Royal Opera House re-opens.

Perhaps it is appropriate also that I should be followed on this occasion by someone else who is to make a maiden speech and who has made an equally distinguished contribution to the arts, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, and we look forward to what he has to say.

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Those of us who have sat in both Houses of Parliament perhaps appreciate more than others the conventions and courtesies that have been traditionally practised both inside and outside the Chamber. I hope that the Government's determination to,

    "modernise the country and its institutions"--

in the words of the gracious Speech--will not lead to their abandonment.

Some of our practices will need to change. A number will fall away because the circumstances that caused them to be accepted no longer exist. A government who call for the modernisation of institutions surely will not demand that we stand by a doctrine first developed by the third Marquess of Salisbury in the last decades of the 19th century or the understanding worked out by the fifth Marquess, as he was to become, and by Viscount Addison during the late 1940s.

The Salisbury doctrine was promulgated for a House of Peers quite different from that in which we now sit. In today's circumstance new conventions are required and will have to be developed.

In a parliamentary democracy the electorate is not adequately served if the executive is allowed to railroad through a great avalanche of ill thought-out, badly drafted and hardly debated legislation. From time to time this House has the right--indeed a duty--to say, "Enough is enough. Up with this we will not put".

Among the measures that I suspect may come in that category are parts of the hotchpotch transport Bill for which no mandate can be claimed on the basis of manifesto commitments. On top of the huge burdens already placed on the motorist will be a poll tax on wheels. We will need to probe very carefully its likely economic consequences, how it creates injustices of treatment between different motorists, and the environmental impact that will arise from the destruction of town-centre businesses and the inevitable growth that the Bill will encourage of out-of-town supermarkets and greater development in the countryside. The Government would be wise not to rely on an outdated interpretation of an obsolete parliamentary convention for a smooth passage for this Bill.

Another old-fashioned, and probably outdated practice--it is not even a convention--is that we do not vote against subordinate legislation. The Companion makes it clear that we have unfettered freedom to vote if we wish to. It refers to a debate on 20th October 1994, initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I am sorry to see that he is no longer in his place. While I agree with the opinion expressed on that occasion by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, that the use of the unfettered right should be a last resort and that we should seek to control the amount and type of delegation in legislation, I also agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that when, as is the case increasingly, regulation is used for matters of major controversy, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain a convention that we consent to them without voting on them.

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Turning now to environmental issues, I first look outside the country and refer to the environmental catastrophe already taking place as a consequence of events in Kosovo. In an earlier debate on 6th May I expressed my doubts about the Government's handling of the Kosovo crisis and, provoked by the extraordinarily complacent and misleading account of those events and their consequences given to the House last Thursday by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, I would have been tempted to say far more today had it not been for the firm response of my noble friend Lord Moynihan.

The outcome of our intervention has not been the happy progress to relative normality so misleadingly outlined by the noble Baroness, but ethnic cleansing--this time by Kosovar Albanians--administrative chaos, economic devastation along the whole of the lower Danube caused by the obstruction of that great international waterway, and the continuing environmental threat posed by flooding due to winter ice packing against the fallen bridges and serious pollution of the river and the land by oil and chemicals from plants destroyed by bombing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, responding to a question posed by her noble friend Lord Grenfell on 11th November, put all the blame for lack of action on Milosevic, and said that the western powers were not prepared to assist a programme of reconstruction while he remained in power.

The Government appear to be blind to the lessons of history. Sanctions and bombing are usually ineffective instruments for removing dictators and governments of whom we disapprove, as we should have learned from events in Iraq. Putting all the blame on one side in an unfolding, historic tragedy of mutual brutality is also likely to be counterproductive. Eventually one has to bring people together and sit down with those whose records one abominates. If we go on as we are, we will be confronted with a social and environmental tragedy and a political nightmare even greater than the one which we intervened to prevent.

I turn from the Balkans to our own land and, first, to policies that threaten to wreck the wonderful countryside of the south of England. The number of additional houses that the Government's planners believe should be built over the next two decades varies almost from day to day, but they run into millions. This is not a distant but an immediate threat. Professor Christine Whitehead, an adviser to the Government on housing, is quoted in The Times, as saying--just after she casually added the equivalent 10 extra Basingstokes to the statistics last week--

    "I don't mind covering a bit of the South East in concrete, to be honest".

Well, I do mind.

Labour promised to put concern for the environment at the heart of policy making. Mr Prescott said that,

    "above all, we must not allow our countryside, our precious green space to become easy prey to developers and speculators".

It is now perfectly clear that, despite those promises, the policy of predict and provide is not dead.

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Professor Whitehead was at least half way to being sensible when she said,

    "The way you can ease the pressure is by working the system to make it attractive to work in the Midlands. You can't do it by controlling housing".

Half way because, yes, we must work the system to make it attractive to work outside London and the south east, but surely we shall also need to continue to protect "our precious green space".

There is something very wrong with a situation when huge numbers of perfectly good houses in the north cannot be sold while demand in the south mounts and mounts. The over-concentration of government, business and population around our capital city, to a degree hardly matched in any other country, is gravely damaging not only to the environment but also to the social and economic health of the nation.

For eight years as Secretary of State, I worked to re-establish industry and business in Wales. I launched the Cardiff Bay project to bring people back to work, live and play in the vast brownland desert of South Cardiff in order to protect the Vale of Glamorgan. Similar efforts have been made in cities like Newcastle and Glasgow. It is possible. We need a far greater effort by government to encourage people to go back to the great provincial cities that created our economic prosperity in the past.

In the age of modern technology and communication, the Net, e-mail and video conferencing, it is nonsense to suggest that everything has to be at the end of a traffic jam in central London.

If the Government really care about modernising Britain they have to stand up to both the professors of "predict and provide" and the developers; and address themselves seriously to the challenge presented by a Britain of two nations--a grossly over-resourced south-east and an impoverished elsewhere.

Finally, I turn to a problem with which I was confronted first as chairman of the National Rivers Authority and about which I have already expressed strong views in my valedictory report and in a recent book. It is a problem presented this month in a powerful paper for the RSPB and Forum for the Future by Caspar Henderson entitled False Economics Won't Hold Water. It points out that Ofwat's--that is to say, Mr Byatt's--approach to the financial regulation of the water industry severely threatens the national environmental programme asked for by the Environment Agency and approved by Ministers. From the outset, first the NRA and then the Environment Agency have been confronted by the uncomfortable reality that they have less control over key environmental programmes than a financial regulator who is not much interested in and lamentably ignorant about them.

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Mr Henderson's paper comments:

    "Ofwat does not have the expertise, nor the legitimacy, to enable it to ignore the advice of the Environment Agency, English Nature and Ministers in removing schemes from the environment programme".

Yet Ofwat has consistently ignored that advice. I agree with Mr Henderson that the regulatory system is flawed and that, as a result, ministerial decisions are being undermined, opinion polls are being ignored and the environment degraded. In my book I said:

    "It seems obvious that there is an urgent need to devise a better way to conduct the debate in future".

The gracious Speech promises to modernise the utility regulation system. The opportunity to reform the flawed arrangements that threaten the environment should not be missed.

I welcome what the Minister said earlier this afternoon about protecting SSSIs and about more effective water use. But it remains odd that New Labour, which in its manifesto said,

    "We will put concern for the environment at the heart of policy making",

has included only one line about the protection of wildlife linked to the right to roam and about global warming in a gracious Speech said to be addressing priorities for the new millennium. It represents just one aspect of the total lack of vision of the measures proposed to which the amendment moved by my noble friend last Thursday refers.

5.1 p.m.

Lord Stevenson of Coddenham: My Lords, it is, I suppose, natural for someone making their maiden speech to feel nervous; and so I do. However, like my old friend the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, in her wonderful and--from my point of view as I stand here--wholly enviable maiden speech, my nervousness has been substantially moderated by the warmth of the welcome that I have been shown by this House: by staff in all departments and by many Members sitting in the Chamber today, not least by the very kind remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. But perhaps the most telling on me, and the most remarkable, has been the welcome that I have been shown by Members who 10 days ago knew that they would not be here today or tomorrow. Before I came here, my understanding of the welcome and warmth of this House was, if you like, a cliche. It has to be experienced to be believed.

In speaking on education, I should explain to the House that I chair a British company, which is the largest provider of educational materials in the world and might, therefore, be judged to have an interest in most matters educational; as, indeed, this company does. However, I hope and believe that I am not alone in this House in welcoming in the gracious Speech, amid the 28 new Bills, the reaffirmation by the Government that education continues to be their number one priority.

In that context, and as someone who has in recent times been asked to give advice to the Prime Minister on the role of computers and information technology

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in education, I very much also welcome the commitment that has been made--and, I believe, is being made--by this Government to improving the use of information technology in our schools and universities. This is not a new policy. The noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, deserves the credit for being its very robust progenitor dating from the mid-1980s, but it is in recent years that it has started to bear fruit and come of age. Today, some 93 per cent of our secondary schools and over 60 per cent of our primary schools are connected to the Internet. That is an astonishing increase from a near zero position a very few years ago. About half of these have ISDN2 or even faster connections. We have over a million computers that work and deliver in our schools, and there are now about a quarter of a million pages of content on the National Grid for Learning. This is an astonishing change, which has come almost by stealth.

It is not perhaps surprising that such dramatic changes create new policy choices. I propose to trespass on the indulgence of the House to suggest what two of these may be. Reference was made in the gracious Speech to the continuing commitment of the Government to reducing class sizes in the early years of education. I have no doubt that this policy is correct, but, as information technology continues to change the entire pedagogy in the classroom, I hope that we will not as a society worship the altar of class size. In some of our schools you can already see classes where the teaching process has been radically transformed to the point where the size of a class is, frankly, less relevant than it used to be. I refer to classes with children who are older than those whom the Government's policy is affecting. Teachers will remain a critical lynchpin, but simple class size will not.

A second and rather different consequence of the extension of information technology into the classroom is what is now widely described as the "digital divide". What does a teacher do when he or she finds a class with, shall we say, 25 out of 30 children who have state of the art equipment at home and connections to the Internet and, therefore, to the school? The teacher will take advantage of it and change the pedagogy for classroom work and for homework by integrating with the home and the parental support there. Indeed, only last week a survey from the British Educational Suppliers Association pointed out that 37 per cent of our schools have now put their curriculum materials on to the website. I do not have the comparative figures with me, but that is a huge increase. This is progress. It is wonderful exploitation of technology in the right direction.

However, what about the five children in this notional class of 30 who do not have such connections and are likely never to have them? I read most carefully and very much welcomed the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer some months ago in which he committed the Government to investing in learning centres to improve access for the worst off in our population. This is not a moment too soon. It is a

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problem analogous to and, possibly, greater than the problem faced in the last century as regards giving poorer households access to books.

Finally, as I have mentioned the subject of information technology in education, perhaps I may put in a plea against ageism in such debates. I am not for a moment accusing the Government or, indeed, the Opposition of this, but it is too often presumed that information technology is the prerogative of the young and that only they can master it. However, although that may be intuitively correct, it goes against the evidence of what is happening in our country, in North America and, as far as I am aware, in the rest of Europe. The evidence shows that the over 55s, or the "silver surfers"--I am sure that that title has no relevance to your Lordships--are one of the most active and fastest growing groups on the Internet. The reason our children have learnt it fast is that they have the time to do so. Equally, the reason older people can do it is that they have the time.

I applaud every word that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said about the relationship of arts to education and observe in passing that the linkage of information technology and the access to it for people throughout their lives can help massively in that respect. In this context, perhaps I may say that one of the very pleasant surprises on entering this House was to find the emphasis put on information technology here: the fact that we have automatic right of access to computers and that we have computing facilities. Huge strides have clearly been made in applying it to the business of the House; indeed, far greater than one would find in many private or public sector organisations of another kind.

I am sure that no one in this House needs to be urged to become a silver surfer. I look forward in the years to come to participating in vigorous exchanges, not only in this Chamber but also, I hope, by e-mail with all Members present.

5.9 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, the delightful duty of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, on his maiden speech falls to me. He has had a most remarkable career. His business career has an emphasis on the media and finance but also covers technology and other aspects. He has also had a wide-ranging and distinguished career in the public service, including having been the chairman of the national association of youth councils and the chairman of the Tate Gallery Trustees. Currently he is a member of the Panel on Takeovers and Mergers and of the board of the British Council.

Someone with a natural tendency to lack of reverence described the noble Lord to me as, "the sort of person who works late, gets up at crack of dawn and has chaired five committee meetings before breakfast". I suspect that he is rather that kind of person. I know that we all hope to hear a great deal more of his vigorous style of debate and of his particular ability to contribute to our discussions.

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I was also charmed by the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall. I have been tempted by both the maiden speeches to jettison my speech and to go once more down those lovely paths of education which I used to enjoy so much. However, I must get back to my "real job" and leave education to my noble friend who is more than competent to deal with it.

As noble Lords may expect, I shall confine myself to discussion of the transport Bill to which we on these Benches give a cautious welcome. That must not be seen as an unwillingness to criticise in detail when the legislation reaches Parliament. We also have severe reservations on some aspects of it. But we do not share the attitude of the Official Opposition to the problems of travel by road. I find it extraordinary that they continue to recommend huge increases in road building while still calling for a reduction in taxation. Somehow those two attitudes do not seem to match up.

I return to the Bill. The Government may have been tempted to entitle it "the integrated transport Bill". The Bill might almost deserve this title if it did not contain the proposals for part privatisation of NATS. This has nothing to do with joined-up transport and everything to do with government unwillingness to finance the capital requirement of an essential public service. There are alternative ways of enabling a publicly owned body to borrow in the open market, for example, we suggest, as a non-profit public interest company. We will argue the detail of that case at the right moment.

My noble friends Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lady Hamwee have already spoken on our opposition to the NATS scheme and I have done so in the past. I simply add that the Bill would be a great deal easier to take through Parliament if the NATS provisions were in a separate Bill. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw will deal with bus regulation. I shall concentrate the rest of my remarks on the legislation for the strategic rail authority and the new powers for local authorities. I shall also speak on the rail safety issues raised by the Minister in his speech.

The Minister will not be surprised to hear that we on these Benches are broadly in support of his proposals for the establishment of a strategic rail authority. After all, a similar proposal was in our own published policies before it reached the Labour Party manifesto. On the other hand we on these Benches will be concerned to see that many of the recommendations of the Select Committee in another place are taken on board before a new version of the former railways Bill reappears. If that happens, I think that the rather unusual process which the Government used in introducing a draft Bill in another place will have been thoroughly justified.

Examples from some of the 52 recommendations that we would wish to see adopted include a series requiring total clarity in respect of the functions of the SRA and the rail regulator; total clarity on the conditions under which the SRA can take over and run

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passenger and rail freight services; and clarity on the financial relationship, if any, between the SRA and the passenger transport authorities in large towns. We have a natural sympathy with recommendation (kk) which seeks to give additional protection against the sale of land which has a potential for railway related development--a most useful redefinition of operational land.

We are particularly concerned about the commitment of the Government to rail freight. It is already becoming clear that there is insufficient capacity on the West Coast Main Line to meet freight aspirations. Those passenger companies which aspire to renew their franchises will aim to fill up capacity on their lines leaving little scope to expand freight carriage. To accommodate freight will require significant investment in extra capacity and if the freight business is left to bear these costs without government help there is little prospect of these facilities being provided. I hope that the Government can acknowledge the problem and can tell us a little more about what plans they have to deal with it.

We share the wish expressed by the Select Committee--and by its distinguished chairman, Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody, in last Thursday's debate in another place--that the SRA should gather and publish information about the performance and investment of Railtrack, the TOCs and ROSCOs and customer satisfaction with those services. I have selected only a few of the Select Committee's recommendations for comment during today's debate, but we shall study the texts carefully prior to the Bill reaching Parliament.

I turn now to local powers for congestion charging and workplace parking levies. Again we are broadly in sympathy with the ideas behind the Government's intention to give powers to local authorities other than the GLA to establish schemes for congestion charging and workplace parking levies. But I very much support the remarks on additionality made by my noble friend Lady Hamwee. It would appear that this Government are spending, if anything, slightly less on transport than their predecessors were planning to do. There may be a benefit to expenditure on public transport resulting from a reduced budget for road building, but hypothecation at a local level must not be substituted for low expenditure machismo at a national level.

In face of widely expressed alarm on how these measures will affect motorists, and the deliberately alarmist attitude adopted by some Conservative spokesmen and the tabloid press, it will be important to stress that such schemes will be part of a local transport plan which requires wide consultation. No one that I know in local government regards them as a single quick fix for the problems of town centre traffic reduction. While I am on this subject, I wish to express some concerns on the part of local authorities that the final guidance for the confirmed five-year round of local transport plans, which have to be submitted in July, has not yet appeared. The requirements for consultation on these local plans are such that some local authorities are already embarked on the consultation process in advance of the guidance in

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order that they can complete the due decision-making process in time. I am afraid that I did not give the Minister notice of this question but I wonder whether she can tell us when publication of this guidance is to take place.

I now come to what seemed to me before the start of today's debate to be a major gap in the provisions of this Bill; namely, the absence of any visible legislation in the field of rail safety. I am grateful to the Minister for the remarks that he made on introducing today's debate. He may have received a letter from me which I sent to him this morning in which I express some of my concerns. I shall not go over the details of recent rail accidents. It is enough to say that a suspicion has been voiced that the accident at Ladbroke Grove might not have occurred had lessons learnt from Southall been put in place. Of course we do not yet know what these lessons may be--that is one difficulty with the present system--but both accidents involved fast and slow trains operating in opposite directions on the same stretch of track.

The difficulty under which the safety system suffers is that accident investigation and the report which follows have sometimes to wait upon the completion of criminal investigation to establish blame. That seems to be the consequence of siting the process within the Health and Safety Executive. A further effect is said to be an unwillingness of witnesses to volunteer information at the accident inquiry because of fear that they may be involved in a later criminal investigation.

The Deputy Prime Minister's decision to establish an immediate accident investigation procedure in respect of Ladbroke Grove, in effect recognised the importance of getting at the facts and rectifying mistakes before attention turns to any criminal procedures. I welcome that intervention on his part, but it will not be enough.

Changes to the present allocation of responsibilities are required. We need to separate the functions of regulation and inspection from the rail accident investigation function. A number of models for achieving this have been suggested, including that put forward by the Select Committee, which is interesting but may not be feasible given the special international responsibilities of the air and marine accident investigation organisations.

Given the time constraints this evening, I do not think that this is the right time to discuss these in detail. Suffice it to say that at present there is a benefit to be had from the reinvention of the independent railways inspectorate under a different title. This would deal with safety regulations and with inspecting and approving safety cases, which are currently functions of the Health and Safety Executive and of Railtrack. The inspectorate would also be charged with making clear the financial consequences of its recommendations so that the Government can determine whether there is a public interest case for supporting additional safety measures. Together with the establishment of an independent accident

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investigation unit, this would go a long way towards satisfying some of the concerns that have been expressed to me.

I very much hope that in the months to come--obviously not this evening--we shall hear a welcoming response from the Government to some of the ideas that I have put forward. Meanwhile, I look forward to a long, interesting and taxing discussion of the forthcoming transport Bill.

5.21 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, the gracious Speech, with its 28 Bills, will indeed bring important issues before us during the coming Session. My main comments today will focus on agriculture and the environment. While some see them as separate issues, they are inextricably linked; the success or failure of the former has implications for the latter.

The style of the countryside as we know it today is man made. For hundreds of years it has been cared for by the farmer, who has been the custodian of the countryside. Farmers have cared for moorlands, heaths, downs, parks, woodlands and SSSIs, and in more recent years have had occasional financial aid from the Government.

Without being rude to the opening speaker on the Government Benches, I was very concerned that in his opening address the words "agriculture" or "farming" were not once mentioned. Even more worryingly, in a recent article on the countryside written by his right honourable friend Michael Meacher, again those two words were not once mentioned.

I am sure that I need not remind your Lordships of the dire circumstances in which farmers find themselves today. Their incomes have halved and halved again during the past two years; average incomes are running at £8,000 a year and many farmers are running at a loss; and many--I see that the right reverend prelate is no longer in his place--have gone out of business.

Increasing numbers of regulations and directives have added to their burden and many farmers are leaving the industry. We--and they--will welcome the Government's drive to address inappropriate and over-complex regulation. Legislation to increase the effectiveness of the power to remove regulatory burdens will be welcomed if properly applied. But if, like the CAP reform, it is fudged, that will not be welcomed.

Earlier this year we saw the passing of the IPPC Bill, which was debated and is now an Act of Parliament. This Act has implications for both poultry and pig farmers. Under the regulations, an application charge of some £6,098 multiplied by the number of components--the areas of pollution--and the annual subsistence charge of £2,768, again multiplied by the number of components, will be levied on all pig producers over a certain size. With those and other charges, the annual cost of a typical sow unit of 2,000 pigs could exceed £18,000. To some, that may not seem a great deal of money, but to those in the pig industry and in other farming activities it is a very large sum.

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Our national pig herd has decreased by some 12 per cent so far this year, and it is expected to fall by another 7 per cent. Does this matter? I believe it does. It is not as though we are eating less pig products--imports are up. The highest standards of animal welfare in the world are set for our farmers. John Godfrey, who is Chairman of the National Pig Association, in a letter to me of the 16th of this month, stated:

    "imports of ... pigmeat from the EU are some 40 per cent higher than last year's levels. The UK customer now eats LESS welfare-friendly pig meat than was the case BEFORE the stall and tether ban came into force in January 1999".

All the Government have succeeded in doing is to export one important part of our farming industry. How many other sectors will follow?

The most obvious candidate is beef. The ban was technically lifted a year ago this month--we heard that in this House--but our beef is still unable to reach markets in France and Germany. We have been given the all clear by the scientific evidence that the Government state we must go by; our systems are cleared and agreed by the 16-strong scientific committee, on which France has two representatives--and still those countries are not allowing us to export. When will the Government move from talking to action?

It is crucial that the Government should be aware of the impact of both legislation and regulations on the farming industry. If we are not careful we shall put all our producers out of business and become reliant on imports from countries whose standards of production are well below what we in this country find acceptable. We honour the EU directives--in many cases we even gold plate them--and then wonder why our farmers are unable to compete against cheap foreign imports.

In a global market, virtually any goods can find their way into our country within 24-48 hours. The Government must tackle import regulatory systems. I welcome the three task forces which have recently been set up to look into these matters. May I ask the Minister: what is their timetable and how soon will they report to the House? Each week that goes by sees more farmers going to the wall. Morale in the industry is low and, even more worryingly, the younger generation are viewing the long-term prospects with alarm and are hesitating to take over from their parents.

I have spoken at length on regulatory burdens. Without a profitable farming community, two things will happen: the countryside which we all so love and admire will deteriorate and rural communities will disintegrate.

The Government are to bring in a broad countryside Bill, one which will give everyone greater access to the countryside while, at the same time, improving the protection of wild life; and there is a commitment to continuing their role in protecting the global climate. In principle, I welcome the measures to protect our wildlife, but we need to see the details. We would be concerned about yet more burdens being placed upon

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those who care for our SSSIs and for our wildlife without there being some form of associated financial support.

I should like to split the question of greater access to the countryside into two parts. I know that other Lords who follow me will speak at greater length. One part concerns the right to roam over moorland, heath and down; and the other concerns the provision of more open spaces near the cities, which we debated in the House some months ago.

Much research has been carried out into the desire of people to make visits to the countryside. Bradgate Park, the former home of Lady Jane Grey, was given to the people of Leicestershire, where I live. It is some five miles away from Leicester city centre and covers some 1,200 acres. Some 95 per cent of people who visit there travel by car, and they bring their dogs and their bikes. It has a very good car parking area to lessen the intrusion of so many vehicles into the village. There is a charge of £1 for a three-hour visit. The park is well organised, with well-signed paths and one main roadway. Interestingly enough, the majority of people stick to the road. Some walk along the paths that are not far from the main entrances, but many do not explore the furthest parts of the park. The park is ideal: near to the town and available to young people and to disabled people and to those who want to bike and to be more active, running up and down the hillside.

The majority of people to whom I talk want to walk regularly and to have regular access to areas near their homes. I wish to highlight the point that supervised car parking will be necessary, otherwise the local community will find themselves invaded, their grass verges spoilt and their lives upset by visitors. Those who live and work close to urban areas but whose lanes and reservoirs provide hours of pleasure for all, as indeed they do near where I live, know very well the downside. That can be seen in the rubbish which is dumped, the gates deliberately left open, the dogs not on the lead and the sheep worried. There are many questions here which the Government must tackle in looking to this new Bill.

Many of us who live in villages are also only too aware that local police units have been closed, the system centralised and that the task of keeping an eye on country areas has become costly. Rural crime is increasing; villagers and farmers know that to their cost. The Government must be aware of those issues if they are to lessen the apprehension of rural dwellers concerning their counterparts in the urban areas. It is not a question of "we" and "they"; we all wish to enjoy the countryside. But that countryside will remain beautiful only if it is run commercially and loved and cared for by dwellers, visitors and people who earn their living there.

On the other hand, ramblers and serious walkers have a different desire. They wish to ramble over moorland, heath and down; they do not wish to be restricted to pathways. Over recent years greater access has been made available through voluntary agreement. It is the Government's intention to make additional land available through legislation, and we

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wait to see the detail of this Bill. However, the issues which I put to the Minister include the question of liability, the question of closure of land during the wildlife breeding season, the implications of allowing dogs on the land and the question of closure of land for shooting days. Those are just a few of the very real issues which I expect we shall debate at great length.

I move swiftly to two other matters. I go back to the time of regulations. The rural community spends much of its time coping with the consuming burden of European regulation. Perhaps the most obvious example is the IACS forms. Even after initial claims, which are horrendous to complete, farmers must devote or pay someone else to devote hours every week to maintaining records. Woe betide them if anything is wrong. The penalties for inaccurate claims make the sentences handed out to persistent young offenders seem like a slap on the wrist.

I turn to the question of parish councils, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, spoke earlier. I shall not cover the points which she made. However, I take as an example East Dean parish near Chichester, which covers a large area but has a population of only 200. Their annual precept is £600 and the books have less than 20 entries. However, their bill from the Audit Commission was £309.40 plus VAT for 13 hours' work for 60 entries over three years. That is indeed ridiculous.

Lastly, I turn to the question of post offices. We on these Benches are most concerned about the increasing numbers of post offices which have closed. Just like those in towns and cities, rural dwellers need to eat, pay their bills for water, electricity, clothes and so on. In order to do that, it is necessary that they have access to money and to shops. Throughout the past 20 years, and particularly the past two years, village shops of all types have been closing as the competition of the large, out-of-town supermarkets has reduced the volume of their sales.

Banks, too, have been closing their rural branches. We are now faced with the question--and it is one which I put to the noble Baroness--of what will be the outcome for the Benefits Agency in the future. The big issue is where payments are to be made to people who receive benefits. If that is to be done centrally--it has been suggested that payments will be made into people's bank accounts--there will be even greater pressure on the few remaining post offices. It will indeed be ridiculous if we end up with a situation in which villagers have nowhere to go. If they are lucky enough to own a car and are able to afford the transport to get them to wherever they have to go, perhaps the local supermarket will be the nearest place where they can obtain the money to be able to pay for their daily needs. That really would be a ridiculous situation.

In these few minutes I have tried to cover one or two aspects of this subject. The most important issues concerning rural dwellers--I know that other noble Lords will speak about them--are those of transport, shops, services, schools, jobs and housing. But the most important issue is that, if we all wish to enjoy our

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countryside, which we do, we must recognise that farming and the countryside are linked together. The only way that we can enjoy the latter is if the former succeeds.

5.35 p.m.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the gracious Speech. It also gives me enormous pleasure to take part in a debate in which there have been two such thoughtful and stimulating maiden speeches--those of my noble friends Lady McIntosh and Lord Stevenson. As a newcomer myself, I stand in admiration.

I want to address my few remarks to the issue of education. I confess that in my capacity as Chief Executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals I was wondering precisely in which debate I should speak: in this one or in tomorrow's debate on industry, social and economic affairs. Noble Lords will understand my dilemma when I say that universities, which I represent and in which I must declare an interest, find themselves very much at the heart of the two themes referred to in the gracious Speech, which describes a legislative programme based on promoting enterprise and fairness, and creating a modern Britain. It is those principles that I should like to address, as did the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn.

It has not always been the case that our higher education institutions have been acknowledged as central both to fairness--through attempts to widen opportunity through learning--and to the enterprise agenda. I believe that it is true to say that in the past universities have been more likely to be characterised--usually, I must say, by excitable Ministers in the Treasury--as consumers of public money rather than as wealth creators. Perhaps too often, and possibly even in universities themselves, higher education has not been thought to have a role to play in opening its doors to those who traditionally saw university as "not for them". However, there is no doubt that the attitude of universities and of government has changed hugely in recent years.

I turn to enterprise. The pre-Budget report acknowledged that partnerships between universities and business, and the transfer of research know-how, are crucial if the UK is to be at the forefront of global developments and at the cutting edge of new research. My noble friend Lord Sainsbury has done much to promote that policy. He has built on a competitiveness policy that was based on the premise that the most dynamic economies have strong universities which have creative partnerships with business. The DTI's Enterprise Challenge Fund is a testament to universities' response: 55 bids for the first round, resulting in 20 projects, often collaborative ventures. One that I know well is the White Rose cluster in Yorkshire. Indeed, such was the quality of the bids that the DTI has announced a repeat round next year.

I very much welcomed the remarks of my noble friend Lord Stevenson. He reminded me that only last week I discussed with Adair Turner of the CBI the way

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in which the development of new technologies presents exciting possibilities for new forms of education provision. We agreed that there is tremendous potential for increased collaboration between corporations and higher education partners in providing high quality course materials which can be accessed by students anywhere in the world.

However, the pre-Budget report also stressed that a successful enterprise culture demands balanced economic growth across all the regions and nations of Britain. Therefore, it was good news that the successful bidders to the University Challenge Fund are spread throughout the United Kingdom.

The DTI initiative, announced just before the pre-Budget speech, which sees MIT join forces with Cambridge University, is to be greatly welcomed. It places the UK at the forefront of MIT's European development and heralds international co-operation by one of our own world-class institutions. But it will also disperse management and research expertise to each of the enterprise centres in the regions and ensure that international-class work will benefit the whole of the UK.

Perhaps I may now turn to fairness. I want to make it clear that all universities are aware of their role in widening opportunity for all our people. We must open up access to all those who could benefit from higher education but who have not in the past. They may have been put off by their experience at school, they may have been let down by the low expectations of their families or they may just have thought that universities were not for them. The CVCP is doing a good deal of work in encouraging good practice in this area but there is clearly a real challenge. That is shown in our recent report, From Elitism to Inclusion. The numbers entering universities from manual groups, while increasing over the past 10 years, still remain too low, at around 6 per cent. But across all types of institution there are initiatives targeting such students, whether it is Bristol University, or Oxford, or Staffordshire or Westminster.

In my regular visits to universities I have an opportunity to see some of these initiatives at first hand. Perhaps I may give two examples. At Wolverhampton a foundation course has been set up in collaboration with the local FE college which particularly targets mature women. Just this summer I was delighted to learn of two women, well into their forties, who gained first class honours in applied sciences and engineering. They had started with no formal qualifications. Bradford, my home town, is the largest metropolitan authority in the country and has the fastest growing youth population in Britain. By the first decade of the 21st century more than 50 per cent of school children will be from ethnic minority communities. The university is attacking what is an inter-generational pattern of educational disadvantage among Bradford's ethnic minority communities by opening up the university's facilities to school pupils and preparing them for higher education through what it has rather sweetly called "the junior university". I am very happy to mention

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two universities whose chancellors, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Paul, grace your Lordships' House.

Having said all that, there are voices--and many stubborn ones--that cry "dumbing down" whenever this agenda is discussed. Yet my visits convince me that it is vital that we do not lose our nerve on this agenda. Those who claim that we are lowering standards to accommodate these students need to be reminded of the Department for Education and Employment indicators on progression rates. Those measure the numbers of students who complete their courses. At around 80 per cent, they stand comparison with any European or US competitor. That is all the more remarkable because our figures have held up during the transition that universities have undergone in a short space of time, from being a relatively narrow sector to being a truly mass system. In 1985, 14 per cent of our young people were participating in higher education. Today the figure is 32 per cent.

I am stressing this point because universities will shortly receive the first ever set of figures from their funding councils, looking at progression rates, access and aspects of university funding. Those figures demonstrate how efficient the sector is by examining how long it takes our students to achieve their rewards, whether degrees or any other form of qualification. The Government have asked for these indicators, and the sector has provided them in a transparent and accountable way. I am confident that UK higher education will consolidate its position at the top of the international league in terms of the numbers of students who achieve degrees and the time it takes them to gain their spurs. Of course there will be tough messages on access rates. No one said that it would be easy to encourage disadvantaged children to make it to university. But let us not knock those pioneering institutions that have driven forward this agenda in recent years. Instead, we ought to reiterate that a mass higher education system is worth the hard work.

One aspect of improving access is the work that universities do with further education locally. Last year, the CVCP and the Association of Colleges gathered examples of compacts between universities and colleges that support students without formal qualifications to progress their studies. Since then many have joined lifelong learning partnerships set up by the Government, which aim to co-ordinate provision in the regions. The gracious Speech included the post-16 education and training Bill, which aims to streamline further education and training for 16 to 19 year-olds, principally through a national learning and skills council. Forty to 50 local learning and skills councils are to be established, with employers having the largest single input. We have welcomed the intentions behind the Bill and particularly the integration of education and training initiatives. I know though--I address this point to the Minister--that many are disappointed at the exclusion of higher education from the Bill, with no reference to its potential contribution to the learning and skills council. I hope that in scrutinising the Bill my noble friends will consider that aspect.

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Nevertheless, I warmly applaud the vision of the gracious Speech in combining the two themes of enterprise and fairness. It balances the promotion of enterprise, taking advantage of high-tech, high value university research, with an inclusive vision, a desire to ensure fairness by means of, as the gracious Speech described,

    "real opportunities [for people] to liberate their potential".

5.45 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, perhaps I may add my congratulations to the two maiden speakers on their remarkable speeches. I was most impressed and look forward to hearing from them both again.

I am holding the gracious Speech in my hand. It consists of six pages. However, as my noble friend Lady Byford said, agriculture, farming and fishing are not mentioned in those six pages. When agriculture and the countryside are such a major part of the nation, it is extraordinary that they should be ignored by the Government. Incidentally, for a Government who keep using "education, education, education" as their slogan, it is disappointing to see a split infinitive on page four of the gracious Speech.

The Government do not seem to understand farming, the countryside or the rural economy. Farming is in deep crisis. If there is not urgent change, there will be a rapid deterioration in its attractiveness and a further decline in rural employment, where the position is already very serious indeed. Scotland must come within this debate. In the debate on agriculture in another place three weeks ago, I noted that Scottish MPs discussed farming. Farming is also discussed in the Scottish Parliament. But in neither Parliament is very much being done to help farmers at the present time. It is notable that the Executive of the Scottish Parliament indicated in a report that the average net income of farmers last year was £416 and was likely to be less this year. That shows what a serious position we are in at the present time.

Perhaps I may highlight some of the major issues. On beef, there seem to have been promises, promises, promises all the way. After they won the general election, the Government said that they would sort out the beef problem with their colleagues in Europe and that there would be no problem at all. Here we are, 18 months later, in a worse position than ever. I cannot understand how the Government can negotiate in Europe when they retain beef-on-the-bone restrictions here. That destroys consumer confidence and is illogical. Senior medical officers are there to advise Ministers. They have done so in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Yet two of them have come down against removing the restrictions on beef-on-the-bone. When there is such an infinitesimal risk, I believe that Ministers should overrule them, take the lead and say that we shall allow beef-on-the-bone in this country. That would be of immense help with regard to our position in Europe. When one bears in mind that in Scotland this year we have had only 27 cases of BSE out of a herd of

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2.1 million, it shows that the disease is just about beaten and that we should begin to think of the future more than of the past.

The Government's Autumn Statement was a great disappointment. It seemed to focus more on costs and expenditure forgone--on slaughterhouses and cattle passports--with little to improve the cash flow of the average farmer. I am sure that word will reach the Minister before she winds up this evening that we want to know what is to happen about the HLCA each year. It is a very important grant to the uplands and yet it has been given only a limited time for discussion and consultation between the NFU and the Government on the change from the present headage basis to an area basis. Does that mean that there will be less money available for farmers in the upland areas? Most people think that that is what it means--and that is a very serious thought indeed. We need to bear in mind that the HLCA is a Treasury-supported grant and not one that needs to be agreed in Europe. There has been very little consultation and it is likely that the grant will be phased out. The NFU urgently needs more information. It needs to know where we are as regards this important grant.

There is outrage in farming circles at the present time. Milk has dropped from 34p a litre to around 17p and the price is still falling. As my noble friend pointed out, pig farmers are in total disarray. Lamb is at a historically low price and cast ewes and calves are almost unsaleable. That is compounded because the Government have insisted on SRM removal from the cast ewes. That has made the cost of slaughtering those beasts more expensive than their value. Why have the Government scrapped the slaughter scheme at such a crucial moment?

Another example of how the Government are out of touch with farming is the failure of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme which was launched amid great fanfare with £2.2 million of available funds, but then £20 million worth of applications were received. That shows how the Government did not think the matter through and what could have been a valuable scheme has been totally underestimated.

We should look again at changing the Over Thirty Months Scheme. Why cannot cattle born after August 1996 when the feed regulations changed be exempted? Again, as my noble friend said, can the Government not seriously look at the problem of regulation in this area. The difficulties of tagging and cattle handling are severe. I do not know whether any Ministers in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have actually tried to put 200 head of cattle through a cattlerace and deal with eartags umpteen times a year to satisfy the grant system. That is one of the most difficult operations relative to the small staff on most farms today.

I shall turn to the countryside. I am, of course, glad that the Chancellor has at last seen sense over fuel tax. However, he has only halted its rise rather than taken action to reduce it. It is important that the Chancellor should look seriously at reducing fuel tax levels on petrol and diesel in the countryside to help the people

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who live there. It is no use saying that money will be put into increasing bus services. That is all very well for those who live on a bus route, but the majority of people in the countryside do not live near a bus stop and they are not prepared to walk two or three miles to reach one. They will get into their cars and drive to the nearest town. That is why the cost of fuel is so important. I am glad that at last the Chancellor has recognised that he was wrong.

I wish that the Government would look seriously at the regulations on planning and renewable energy. I am most disappointed at the number of wind farms being erected in valuable areas of scenic beauty. In the years ahead, those farms will be very detrimental to the countryside. Furthermore, there is the blight of innumerable mobile telephone masts now dotted on the tops of so many hills in Scotland.

There is to be an important Bill on countryside access both for England and in Scotland. That should be accompanied by an understanding of responsibility towards the countryside. What compensation will be made available? What insurance will be necessary? What will be the cost to local authorities for footpath upkeep and to provide rangers? Have all these issues been thought through? In Scotland, there is the additional matter that land may be compulsorily acquired by communities if they so wish. That will be an impossible and intolerable burden on the countryside and I sure that that will be resisted in the Scottish Parliament. We need more consultation on access in both forums in England and Scotland, and I am sure in Wales as well.

I know that there will be endless debates on footpaths and general countryside matters. I see the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, sitting on the opposite Benches. The noble Lord and I and six other Peers served on the Standing Committee of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill and he knows, as I do, what lengthy arguments are to be had on the problem of footpaths. At the weekend I looked up those speeches and saw that I spoke for 62 minutes on bulls on footpaths on one memorable morning. I hope that I shall not have to do that again.

We shall also follow closely developments on sites of special scientific interest. They form an important part of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, bearing in mind that wildlife needs sustainable farming if it is to be successful in our countryside. It is complementary to profitable farming to see wildlife expanding and developing in the country. I see that the chairman of English Nature is in her place, and of SNH, with both of which I have been closely involved. We must try to find more compromises rather than conflict between the governing bodies and agencies. I have been saddened by the level of conflict between the different countryside bodies when basically we are all trying to achieve the same objectives.

Finally, I turn to the new national parks to be set up in Scotland and in England. Having once been in charge of the national parks as a Minister, I feel that any more parks will add enormously to the bureaucracy and planning complications surrounding

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them. I caution the Government to proceed carefully with regard to Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms where an excellent partnership scheme has been set up. I note also that national park status appears to be singularly unwanted by those who live in the New Forest and on the Downs in England.

All in all, I finish by saying that there is presently a real crisis in farming. That is not an overstatement. It is a real crisis and it needs leadership to overcome the problems. We need successful negotiation in Europe rather than capitulation. I believe that the Government are failing the farming industry, failing the countryside, and failing the nation.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I propose to direct my remarks to the commitment in the gracious Speech that the,

    "Government will continue their leading role in protecting the global climate".

That statement was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, in his opening remarks. A number of noble Lords have already dealt with various aspects of the environment. I intend to deal with energy and the environment, with particular reference to the objectives the Government have set for dealing with the problem of climate change.

The principal ways of achieving these objectives are by increasing energy efficiency, developing renewable resources--having regard to their environmental impact, as has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm--and improving the use of fossil fuels by means of processes such as clean coal technology.

I have been involved in the energy sector for over 50 years and am still actively engaged therein in the promotion of combined heat and power. During that half century, there have only been two periods when energy saving was taken seriously. The first period was immediately after the war when coal, then the main source of energy, was in desperately short supply. When in 1947 I joined the marketing department of the newly formed National Coal Board, my task was not to sell coal but to ration it; not to persuade people to make more use of it but to make less use. That situation lasted for a few years until plentiful supplies of oil began to arrive, followed by gas from the North Sea and the development of nuclear energy.

The second time a real interest was taken in energy saving was during the oil crisis of the 1970s. Then, it was occasioned by the spiralling price of the product. Oil had taken over from coal in dominating the energy market. There seemed to be no end to the increases that would be introduced as a result of political action in the Middle East. However, that phase passed.

We then move to another phase when energy saving has become important; namely, the present. On this occasion the situation is entirely different. The motivation is the environmental issue, which does not have the immediacy of energy shortage or high prices. On the contrary, there is plenty of energy available

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and, on the whole, prices have been kept at a low level. There has been a recent increase in the price of oil, but oil is now much less dominant in the market-place.

So in order to achieve the Government's objectives against the background of a relaxed market situation, a great deal more intervention will be required than was previously the case. Whereas people were previously motivated by their own direct interests--namely, not being able to obtain energy or having to pay too much for it--those motives no longer exist. Therefore, I should like to examine the energy scene today in relation to the Government's climate change objectives.

First, let us take the domestic market, where the overriding issue is that of fuel poverty. My noble friend Lady Hamwee referred to the problem of poor housing. Fuel poverty and poor housing are inextricably linked. The latest English House Condition Survey indicated that there is fuel poverty in no fewer than 5 million homes in this country; in other words, insulation is inadequate, as are the heating installations. Not only does that have major social problems attached to it; it also leads to much waste of energy, with very little benefit for those who are unfortunate enough to live in such houses.

A tragic aspect of the problem is the mortality rate in the winter months compared with the rest of the year. The mortality rate in Britain rises in winter by between 15 and 30 per cent. That is double the rate in any other western European country. Indeed, in countries such as Denmark, where homes are insulated to a much higher standard than has ever been achieved here, there is no difference in the mortality rate between the seasons. So clearly, poor housing, poor heating and high winter mortality rates go together. That is an even more serious problem than only having to deal with climate change, important as that may be.

I have been associated with the work of the NEA for many years. It is an organisation committed to improving the insulation of the homes of people on low incomes, mainly the elderly. I therefore welcome the Government's recent publication of their new home energy efficiency scheme (HEES) which is intended to put much more money into improving heating conditions in the homes to which I have referred.

The trouble is, however, the magnitude of the problem. In spite of the big increase in resources that the Government will put into the scheme when it gets under way, it is proposed to tackle only some 300,000 homes per annum. That may sound a large number; but compared with the 5 million, it will take some 15 years to deal with the problem. The objective ought to be to end fuel poverty in this country and to deal with inadequate housing in a much shorter time. We should set ourselves a limit of five years. So although it is a step in the right direction, the scheme requires re-examination.

Another step in the right direction is the extension into the gas market of what is known as the energy efficiency standards of performance scheme, which has been applied very successfully in electricity. It involves

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a contribution of only £1 per annum per consumer of electricity. Aggregated, that provides a sum of £25 million, which has been used to introduce schemes for higher efficiency in the use of electricity. A National Audit Office inquiry into the scheme has indicated that the cost of saving electricity is half the price of producing electricity. Therefore, it is obvious that a scheme of that kind should be encouraged. I am delighted that it is being extended to the gas industry by the present Regulator. I have advocated that for many years. But the scale is far too small: £1 per annum per consumer. A good deal more needs to be set aside so that a larger sum could be used for these very desirable purposes. That is a further way in which the disadvantaged could be helped. So again, a step has been taken in the right direction that needs further development.

There is one other matter in regard to the domestic market that the Government should pursue; namely, the application of energy surveys to homes. If we do not know the relevant energy efficiency of a home, it is difficult to deal with the problem. The previous government developed a scheme for doing that; namely, the standard assessment procedure (SAP). It has already been laid down that all new house construction shall have an SAP of at least 60 out of 100. But the last energy survey of housing in this country indicated that the average SAP in Britain was not 60, 50 or even 40, but 35. Therefore, we need to know what the standards are in every home in the country.

There is a way of progressively introducing such an approach. When new mortgages are granted, the survey that has to be undertaken into the structure of the house could include the condition of the energy installation. Furthermore, the Government propose to introduce provision for a package of information to be provided by the seller of a property. That could also include information on energy efficiency.

I should like to deal briefly with the industrial market. The most important development has been the Government's plan to introduce the climate change levy. I am in favour of a levy on the usage of energy at a time when we are attempting to save it in order to improve the climate, both now and in the future. However, there were a number of serious shortcomings in the scheme. In his Pre-Budget Statement on 9th November, the Chancellor dealt with some of them, so the scheme now has fewer disadvantages than previously. But there is one weakness in the scheme. As now envisaged, it would raise £1 billion; however, only £150 million would be recycled into energy saving. The rest would go into the reduction of national insurance contributions by employers. That may be a worthy objective--no employer would not wish that to happen. However, I cannot see the relationship to energy saving. If the Government are to ring-fence the proceeds of the transport fuel escalator, they should do the same in the case of energy used for heating. If we could get that full £1 billion used in energy saving, we could move a long way towards achieving the Government's objectives on climate change, which are wholly

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desirable. The Government will shortly have, through the proposed utilities Bill, increased powers to take action in this area, which will be necessary in view of the market situation.

The major remaining difficulty is that the resources so far made available are not adequate. There are ways, largely through self-financing, of increasing resources. That extra expenditure should not be regarded as a cost. It will be of substantial benefit to both the present and future generations.

6.10 p.m.

Lord Bowness: My Lords, the gracious Speech promises a Bill to enable different forms of local government to be put in place. As a consequence, the Government hope that there will be a resurgence of interest in local government among the electorate and that new systems will improve the efficiency, transparency and accountability of local government--helping it to assume its role as a leader of its communities.

The proposals were first advanced in the White Paper Modern Local Government, and then appeared in the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill published during the last Session. That draft required local authorities in England and Wales to make proposals for a political management structure with a separate executive. The White Paper and draft Bill put forward three principal models: a directly elected mayor appointing an executive drawn from the council; a council leader appointed by the full council, also appointing an executive drawn from the council; and a directly elected mayor with a council manager to be appointed by the council.

Under the draft Bill, every local authority has to draw up proposals for moving to new executive arrangements, including the model that is to be followed. Where the proposals include an elected mayor, there has to be a representative. Furthermore, should a local authority receive a petition signed by at least 5 per cent of the electors in support of an elected mayor, the authority must hold a referendum. The Secretary of State, who features largely in the draft Bill, is empowered to make regulations enabling a local authority to hold a referendum on whether it should adopt executive arrangements based on any one of the three models.

A Joint Committee of your Lordships' House and another place reported on the draft Bill before the recess. It was my privilege to chair that Committee. As the report will not be debated separately, I take the opportunity to thank Members of both Houses and of all parties and none for all the work that they did to produce an agreed report in a very short time. I include in those thanks the clerks to the Committee-- Mr Walters from your Lordships' House and Miss Barry from another place.

As the noble Lady, Baroness Hamwee, suggested, the Joint Committee had concerns about the time available to it to consider the draft Bill, which was only the second to be considered under the new procedure.

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The timetable was short. While there may be certain benefits in considering a matter in a concentrated manner, only a very short time was available. The draft Bill was published in March but it was not until the end of May that the Joint Committee was constituted--which gave the Committee only six weeks to invite witnesses to appear and to take and examine evidence in detail. If such a Joint Committee is to do a worthwhile job and hear all the appropriate witnesses, more time is required. Some witnesses were not able to respond to the Joint Committee's invitation. It would have been unsuitable to consider compelling witnesses to attend because the timetable was unreasonable and one had to take account of witnesses' other commitments.

The Joint Committee's second difficulty was that the draft Bill was in many ways a skeleton and large elements of the legislation depend on regulations to be produced by the Secretary of State. One of the committee's recommendations was that rapid progress should be made with preparing those regulations, so that they go before both Houses at such time as the Bill itself is considered. Otherwise, consideration of the real Bill, if I may put it that way, will be hypothetical.

When the Minister replies, I would like her to say whether the Government have found it possible or whether she believes it will be possible to respond positively to a number of the Joint Committee's key recommendations.

I will not take up your Lordships' time discussing the report in detail, but the committee saw a need for recognition that in rural, apolitical or normally hung authorities the council leader or council manager model might have greater appeal than an elected mayor--which has metropolitan connotations. That model is not foreshadowed in the Government's White Paper or the draft Bill. Although we heard evidence that it would be permitted, the inclusion of such recognition in the Bill for the avoidance of doubt would give great comfort and reassurance to many authorities and people throughout the country.

We saw a particular need, in the case of the elected mayor model, for guidelines to clarify the distinction between policy framework considerations and executive action--and for that to be thought through before the Bill is presented to Parliament. As to the separation of powers, insofar as that can be achieved, there is a need for the scrutiny function to be adequately served by local authority officers--to ensure that advice is given to council members who are not members of the executive that is independent of advice given to the mayor and executive. The House may remember that on consideration of some provisions of the Greater London Authority Bill at a late stage, there was concern about provisions that allowed the mayor to keep advice private, without there appearing to be any differentiation between advice given on policy formulation and advice given to back up executive decisions.

If the Bill subsequently presented to Parliament follows the form of the draft considered by the Committee, that will mean a very different form of

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local government. Although cabinet government has to some extent been practised informally in many authorities, its formal creation means that safeguards need to be built in, so that the old system will be replaced by robust measures that ensure that the mayor, cabinet leader and/or cabinet manager can be properly held to account. I am sure that your Lordships and Members of another place will appreciate any information the Minister can give as to the Government's response to those points and many others. I particularly re-emphasise the need for the draft regulations, on which so much of the Bill is based, to be available when the real Bill is debated.

As other Members of your Lordships' House have indicated, the gracious Speech this year is quite silent on environmental matters. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell quoted the extract from the Labour Party manifesto which I cited in this debate last year. Therefore, I shall not take up your Lordships' time by quoting it again. I am sure that the Minister is well aware of it. I hope that when she comes to reply the noble Baroness can help the House as to the present thinking in the Secretary of State's department.

I remind the House that the Deputy Prime Minister returned from Kyoto with a promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent. The last time that I heard him interviewed on the radio I understood him to say, not what progress had been made in implementing that agreement, but that the Government were still discussing what they would do to meet the target. I believe that a legitimate question to ask is: what progress has been made and where are we? Certainly, the European Commissioner Margot Wallstrom was reported as saying only two weeks ago that progress in tackling the problem was very slow.

We also heard last year the Deputy Prime Minister play down concerns about development on greenfield sites by committing himself to 60 per cent development on brownfield sites. The noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, has produced an excellent report on such policies and developments. My noble friend Lord Crickhowell again referred to the report produced by a Mr Stephen Crow, a former chief planning inspector, and Rosamund Whittaker, a senior planning inspector, for the Secretary of State. A report in the Independent described the Secretary of State's decision as to whether to accept Mr Crow's report as,

    "the most fateful decision ever taken about the English landscape".

The report calls for the number of houses to be built in the south east to rise from 666,000 to 1.1 million. It destroys absolutely the agreed strategy of the South East Regional Planning body (SERPLAN) which, as I understand it, has already agreed unanimously to reject the Crow Report. SERPLAN's original recommendations were based on preserving the environment and quality of life within the south east. The new report which the Secretary of State must now consider suggests development which I understand is equivalent to 430 square kilometres--an area greater than the Isle of Wight. It is perhaps described more

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graphically in the Independent. If the houses were placed either side of a single road it would stretch from London to Hawaii; namely, a distance of 7,200 miles.

If the Secretary of State accepts this report he will be flying in the face of the elected representatives of all parties in the region. He will destroy the effective use of one of the most important local government functions; namely, the ability to control development in its area. What price then local authorities as the leaders of their communities? Elected mayors and cabinets will not contribute very much to effectiveness or the public's regard for local government. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to tell the House that we shall not have to wait very much longer before the Secretary of State decides that the Crow Report by two officials will not be used to overthrow the express wishes of 18 million people through their elected representatives in the south east. If he does so, that rejection of the Crow Report will be a statement in support of reinvigorated local government and greater public interest and participation in it. If he does not throw out the Crow Report we can assume only that his trust in officials is greater than in local government members and that instead of it being the dawn of a new day all that the draft Bill will be is a false dawn.

6.24 p.m.

Lord Sawyer: My Lords, I begin by wishing the Government well in this Session. Twenty-eight Bills represent a tough task for any administration and, along with other matters that no doubt will emanate from the Government during the Parliament, that can be a heavy workload. It is important that the Government try to achieve some focus during this Parliament. It could be the last full Session before the General Election. It would be useful to give thought to the main items that the Government want voters to take from this Session of Parliament.

Tonight I should like to make some remarks about the proposed reforms of post-16 education and training, in particular to say something about the importance of education and training for those at work. These are exciting times for those of us who have delivered this service in the workplace and spent a lifetime trying to improve the education and skills of the workforce. Starting from the problem of the 7 million adults with severe difficulty with basic literacy and numeracy right through to the millions of graduates who are in adult employment but whose skills must be updated and developed almost on a daily basis, we have an enormously difficult and challenging job ahead.

Much of what needs to be done must be initiated by employers. In my experience, good employers recognise that business efficiency can be achieved only by developing the skills of the workforce and, knowing that, they carry out that task. The best trade unions do the same. Look at the work done by UNISON on the development of basic skills under the Return to Learn programme. That was an outstanding contribution to the basic numeracy and literacy skills of its members. That is the basis on which Investors in People has been so successful. Companies and unions have taken

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ownership of Investors in People and turned it into a kind of mass movement to develop people at work and achieve business success.

Much of what needs to be done in future can and will be done by the motivation and efforts of individuals themselves. In my experience, there is a hunger out there among people who want to grow, learn, develop and change which is nowhere near being satisfied. That must be recognised, encouraged and rewarded by government, employers and trade union. Sadly, the record is not all good. One in three employees is never offered any training at all by his or her current employer, and the overall numbers who received some form of training and the number of hours of training received by individuals fell last year. Those with the least skills and most insecure jobs receive the least training, whereas 21 per cent of professional employees receive training funded by their employer. That is not enough; it needs to improve.

The state and government have a key role to play in helping the best to improve and to drive up the standards of under-achievers. This is primarily a leadership role for government in partnership with business, trade unions and individuals. The Government must focus their leadership on the big picture. David Blunkett got it absolutely right when he published his consultation paper The Learning Age in which a strong vision and clear mission for education and training in the new century was spelt out. But vision and mission are ongoing tasks for leadership. The White Paper lost a little of the sense of "What are we here for?" as it inevitably moved on to explain delivery mechanisms and structures.

At the time of the publication of the White Paper, all the newspaper reports were not about vision and mission but the new Learning and Skills Council, and that is important. I know that my noble friend will agree with me that a council without a mission will not make a change. Following the gracious Speech last week the newspapers did the same: they focused on structures and procedures. Those are important improvements, but they are not enough without a new vision. We need to address these shortcomings. To make a real change to people's working lives we need a big change in attitude on the part of government, employers and individuals.

I welcome the new role given to the National Learning and Skills Council, but I want the emphasis to be on vision and values, not on rules and procedures. So when it comes to the functions of the Learning and Skills Council, I do not want the first point of its function to be that referred to in the White Paper: to ensure that a high quality of post-16 provision is available to meet the needs of employers, individuals and communities. I want that to be the second point. I want the first point to be that set out in David Blunkett's consultation paper. I want the vision and provision to be carried through from the top to the people who use the service.

In the list of functions, I should like the first to be a new learning culture; a culture of lifelong learning for all which will encourage creativity and learning for the

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individual, help build a better society and advance competitiveness and prosperity. It may not be phrased in those words, but there should be something upfront about the mission. That is its job: a champion of change.

We need a fundamental shift in thinking in terms of engaging employers, unions, individuals and communities in meeting future learning and skills needs. This is a revolution. It is not the same group of committee people and quango holders exchanging one set of institutions, committees or group of seats for another. The new council must be more than a manager of public funds. It must be a change agent influencing and affecting attitudes among employers and employees, giving a new vision of working life to lifelong learning.

We need to make sure that employer involvement in education and training is not token involvement or just seats on boards; and that there are stronger links with employer organisations which do real business in real life--for example, the national training organisations which have been so successful recently.

We also need to find ways of keeping that vision and strategy close to the point of delivery. We need a flat structure, as would be said in organisational terms. The national council, presumably sitting in London, with perhaps 40 or 50 local councils, could be a kind of bureaucratic pyramid of the great and good if not handled carefully. It is important to involve the real consumers, the people whose lives are changing day by day through the development of technology, the economy and other innovations. We need to find ways of working with their experience at every level of education and training management.

Finally, there is the difficult question of networking, or joined-up government as it is currently called. With a national council, and with 40 or 50 local councils feeding out to regional development agencies, national training organisations, the Employment Service, the small business services, the university of industry, local partnerships--the list is endless--there is still potential for confusion and duplication. One of the key tests will be whether a business man or woman in a small enterprise working hard to make a go of that business will ask, "How does this help me?" I hope that the Minister will put her mind to that question.

I hope that these criticisms are not seen by my noble friend as being negative. I completely support the new reforms. My remarks are intended to be constructive. The Green Paper was on fire with vision. Understandably, the White Paper brought in structures and methods of working and the vision could not be given the same prominence. But I do not want a future Bill without vision. I want a proper balance between vision and structures. I want the vision to be upfront and shared by all. If the members of those 40 or 50 local skills councils in Scotland, Wales and the English regions can understand and believe in that vision, and can go out and sell it to the people in their communities, we shall have gone a long way to meet the cultural change that is necessary to achieve what has never been done previously.

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6.34 p.m.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I, too, like the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was deeply saddened that there was no mention of agriculture in the gracious Speech, nor indeed in the opening remarks of the Minister. I must declare an interest as someone who tries to farm, and I emphasise "try" as British agriculture is in the most terrible state--the worst in living memory.

British farmers are totally demoralised by physical events: ridiculously low prices; the effects of BSE; the beef-on-the-bone ban; beef export embargoes, especially by France and Germany; the unfairness of imports which do not have to meet the strict criteria necessary for home producers; and the massive power of supermarkets.

They are even more demoralised by the apparent lack of interest in their plight by the Government. Sadly, Ministers appear not only unsympathetic but positively ignorant of the serious position of the majority of farmers. I fear that this was made only too apparent by the lack of mention of agriculture by the noble Lord on the Government Front Bench. The present crisis is not only affecting producers in the marginal areas, but even those in the most fertile regions too.

I give some examples. Pig farmers are losing £14 on each and every pig they sell. The stories about sheep farmers shooting their sheep are, sadly, far from exaggerated. The aftermath of BSE still dogs the complete livestock sector. The dairy industry is completely in the doldrums. It is absurd that more than 50 per cent of leased milk quota is owned by non-producers. This defeats completely the whole raison d'etre of milk quotas. As many noble Lords know, milk quotas are an anathema to efficient milk producers.

Turning to cereals, if, for example, the price of malting barley over the past 20 years had increased with the same percentage increase in the minimum agricultural wage, growers this year should be receiving £170 per tonne. In reality they are lucky to get £70 per tonne. I wonder how Ministers would feel today if they were earning 41 per cent of what they were earning 20 years ago. The mind boggles--but that is what is happening in reality to farmers, but fortunately not to Ministers!

It must not be forgotten that farmers have to operate under a very strange set of rules. First, and perhaps foremost, is the weather; and there I accept that the Government have no control. The right rain at the right time can often boost income per acre by as much as £100. The right sun and heat at the right time might boost income a further £25 per acre. I give a small example. Good weather this year saved us at home £20,000 in drying costs; and a similar amount was saved on weight loss due to moisture content.

At home we have just finished sowing next year's wheat crop a full two months earlier than last year. We shall probably have to wait until early September

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before we can harvest it. In the meantime, I have no idea how much it will cost to grow, what it will yield and, most importantly, what it will be worth.

Agriculture is more affected than any other industry by the pound sterling/euro exchange rate and it must not be forgotten that the strength of the pound has appreciated by over 30 per cent over the past three years.

Turning to organic food, the Government hardly pay lip service to encouraging home production. The funds made available are derisory. This is especially so when compared with most other EU countries which subsidise their organic producers to massive extents. For example, Austria pays its organic producers an annual subsidy in excess of £250 an acre. It is no wonder that about 80 per cent of organic food sold in our supermarkets is imported. One has to doubt, too, whether all our overseas suppliers of organic food meet the stringent requirements necessary for our home producers.

Another serious worry to those of us living in the countryside is rural employment. The lack of any light at the end of the tunnel means that farmers are now making staff redundant as the only way to save outgoings. This, sadly, is nationwide. Between June 1998 and June 1999 the number of working farmers and their wives fell by 5 per cent to 201,000. Those figures alone show the importance of agriculture to the nation's employment figures. Only half, 104,000, are full-time and 20,000 of those are women. Last year nearly 18,000 farmers and farm workers left the land. Regular full-time workers fell by 6 per cent to 102,000.

Farmers ought to be in a position to ask themselves, "If I do this, can I take on another employee?", rather than as at present, doing the complete reverse. Something must be done urgently to halt this decline in rural employment.

I turn now to bureaucracy. Can nothing be done to inhibit the appalling growth of form-filling and similar for farmers? The average farmer today spends not less than two days per week in his office, purely filling in forms, or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, mentioned employs someone else to do so. Let us hope that that is what is meant in the gracious Speech:

    "As part of my Government's drive to address inappropriate and over-complex regulation, legislation will be introduced to increase the effectiveness of the power to remove regulatory burdens".

I quote again from the gracious Speech:

    "Legislation will be introduced to assist the rescue of viable businesses in short-term difficulties, and improve the procedure for disqualifying unfit company directors".

There will be a minute percentage of farmers who will have traded profitably last year and I hope that when Her Majesty's Government come to draft this Bill they will have farmers to the very forefront of their mind.

I turn now to the issue of greater access to the countryside. I hope and pray that before any Bill is drafted, her Majesty's Government will consult fully--here I really mean fully--with all the relevant bodies, most especially the CLA and the NFU, both of whose membership are the guardians of our rural

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environment. It must not be forgotten that in order to have a healthy countryside it is vital to have a profitable agricultural industry.

On the contentious issue of hunting with hounds, I should like to place on record for the future that if a ban on hunting with hounds became law, three things would happen: first, the life of not one single fox would be preserved; secondly, many thousands of rural jobs would be lost; thirdly, the rural environment, the countryside that so many people love, would not be conserved in the way that it is today. The Government must have more important things to legislate on or indeed to give parliamentary time to.

I have three questions to ask Her Majesty's Government, all, I believe, of equal importance. The first refers to renewable energy from agricultural crops. I make no excuse for raising this yet again in your Lordships' House. North Sea oil is not going to last for ever. Will Her Majesty's Government give a firm commitment to spending more on research and development in this area? The amount spent at the moment really is pathetic.

Secondly, will Her Majesty's Government give a commitment that trials of GM crops can continue in safety for those growing them? Thirdly, will Her Majesty's Government agree to pay in full the agricultural compensation allowances and to register with the Commission well before the 31st March deadline?

We really do need to develop a long-term strategy, not one that will simply paper over the cracks. This strategy must involve farmers, growers, the entire food industry and the Government, so that British agriculture and the British countryside can flourish once again. The nation deserves nothing less.

6.44 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, in a debate such as this, various speakers address the various aspects of a number of subjects gathered together. We have heard two maiden speeches from noble Lords who will obviously greatly reinforce the expertise on which we can draw in terms of education and communication. I should merely like to return to the subject which was very well covered by my noble friends Lady Byford and Lord Monro of Langham, and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. In Her Majesty's most gracious Speech laying out the Government's plans and priorities, the only mention of subjects concerning the countryside and rural affairs was couched in terms which I can describe only as those of the urban agenda which so characterises all the Government's policies in this area.

The nature both of democracy and of the Government's reform of this House means that any perspective in this area other than the counting of human heads is inevitably relegated to second best. Everyone is aware that the countryside is undergoing an immense transformation. People are turning into inquisitive spectators rather than active participants in nature. For most, the opportunity to grow up with a bond to and an understanding of the passage of the

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seasons is limited to whether the television channels are full of football or of cricket. The phrases used by the Minister this afternoon served only to emphasise that approach. The sense that humanity is only one of many species vying for space and air becomes merely, "I know what I want--make some room for me".

I should declare my own interests as one brought up in the countryside and who has spent nearly 40 years in livestock rearing. Agricultural production gave the rationale and economic backbone to all rural life. With the application of science and technology, agriculture is becoming increasingly concentrated on intensive-farmed areas and in fewer and fewer hands. The balance which existed between extensively-farmed uplands and hills and intensive low ground no longer exists. Efficient arable production no longer requires the wintering of fattening cattle and the grazing of sheep bought from the western areas. Even the dairy farms, finding themselves capable of increased production but constrained by their quotas, and, with modern medicines, no longer needing specialist shepherds, have gone in for keeping their own sheep and fattening the lambs rather than buying them from stock rearing areas.

In addition, your Lordships heard in the debate of 9th November on the Government's policy for milk how milk production, that great bulwark of the small farm and the new farm entrant, has been turned into a recipe for financial loss, due largely to weak marketing and the strength of the pound. From the receiving end, the impression is that the Government, as directed by the CAP, continue to throw money at the problem without any clear theme or understanding of what the countryside and those in it have to offer and how that can be sustained.

The themes most often heard from the Government are about competitiveness and marketing. That seems difficult to reconcile with the ruling by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report that Milk Marque, because it accounts for 36 per cent of the liquid milk market, must be broken up. In its present form it would not be allowed to contemplate the sort of vertical integration that is carried out throughout the European Union by farmer co-operatives that account for 60 per cent and more of their own respective markets.

There was a further anomaly in Scotland at the time of deregulation of milk. The major milk co-operative, the Scottish Milk Marketing Board, which presently accounts for about 6 per cent of UK production, included a sizeable element of vertical integration into manufacturing. This was forced to split up and the manufacturing element, Scottish Pride, was hived off. Only this summer it had to go into liquidation due to not being viable on its own in the current economic circumstances. Are there no lessons here for governments about being more careful in their consideration of regulations?

My noble friend Lord Monro of Langham was telling your Lordships about Scottish agriculture. Your Lordships will be only too well aware that agriculture in Scotland has been devolved. But the overall position is still of vital concern to this House.

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In Scotland the livestock are mainly concentrated in what are known as the Less Favoured Areas--the hills of the West, which constitute 83 per cent of the land area. The figures that I have are not exactly the same as those of my noble friend Lord Monro. However the figures published by the Scottish Executive demonstrate that the net farm income forecast for 1998 was £468 per farm. We are not talking about income per week but about income per year. We have already heard of the dire nature of the forecasts for the following year.

Farming in those areas is already extremely extensive. Those who live in those areas would like to know what is the Government's policy in broad terms as well as in the minor detail. Are they thinking of taking great chunks of that land permanently out of production? Does the future for those living in those areas lie in becoming part of a national ranger service; or is there some special structure for small and part-time farmers? At present, those who want to leave are in a Catch-22 situation because they will mainly have been relying on the sale of their stock to provide themselves with a pension. At this stage, they will be lucky if the stock has half the value it had a couple of years ago.

The Scottish Executive's view of what is needed in the country seems to be a radical transformation of the laws of land ownership and increased planning and other controls, so much so that the proposals in question account for about 40 per cent of the legislative programme. They will nearly all make more difficult the operations of those making a livelihood in the country.

The Scottish Executive is very busy at the moment handing out the lifebelts which the Government have provided for the present crisis. We must all be most grateful for that. But what is lacking is the design of a boat which will carry a viable countryside through to the next ten or 20 years.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest: My Lords, we have already been reminded that in the gracious Speech the Government declared their intention to make local government "more innovative and accountable". To those ends, as we have heard, they are proposing the direct election of mayors, new statutory codes of conduct and enhanced powers to improve the environment.

Many of those proposals are concerned with the mechanisms of local government; indeed, with increasing the professionalism of local government. There are gains to be secured from that but, as my noble friend Lord Sawyer emphasised in a different context, a preoccupation with improved structures may oust what he well described as the sense of mission and vision.

Therefore, changes to local government mechanisms must be accompanied by measures, statutory as well as administrative, to involve local people and organisations more effectively in the work

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of councils. So I welcome the recognition by my noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston that local people must decide how they are governed.

In that context, I want to concentrate on the very grass roots of local government--on the role and contribution of what I shall refer to generically as local councils; that is, town councils, parish councils and, particularly in Wales, community councils. They are too often overlooked in the debate on local government.

My interest is that of one who, like Her Majesty's Government, would like to encourage more local innovation and accountability. I have observed how my own local town council has progressively promoted those objectives since it was re-established in 1996 after a demise of 63 years.

Local councils are a most significant part of local democracy. There are some 7,500 of them in England and Wales and some 100,000 people serve as councillors. Many such councils are small, representing 200 or 300 people in a rural area. But there are some large town councils, such as Bracknell, which has a population of 50,000, and Loughton, in Essex, where I live, which has a population of 30,000 and 22 councillors.

Local councils can and do engage in a surprisingly wide range of activities. It does not always depend on their size. Some councils with small populations are remarkably enterprising. We should not underestimate the value of such things as providing allotments, making grants for bus services and traffic calming, introducing and equipping crime prevention services, supporting the local arts and providing recreation facilities; nor should we underestimate the unique contribution which those councils make to the planning process in relation to which detailed local knowledge is of the essence.

Those functions derive from a whole myriad of statutory sources which impose serious obligations on local councillors. They must inform themselves properly of their powers, particularly if they are minded to take new initiatives. Some innovate in quite surprising ways within the limits of their very modest resources. For example, my local town council has set up an active community forum; it has installed a series of very well-received local heritage plaques; and has established a skate board facility. Perhaps of more direct interest to your Lordships is that it is one of the few councils to have a website so those noble Lords who are technophiles can read all about it on the Net.

Local councils have been described as the Cinderellas of local government. As noble Lords will recall, Cinderella had two ugly sisters. I should not wish to draw any invidious comparisons with district or county councils, but if the Government want to make local government as a whole more innovative and more accountable, they should not overlook the important part which local councils can play in that. That is one area in which small really is beautiful and provides quite remarkable value for money. Ministers could help by, from time to time, giving more explicit recognition of what local councils do and by

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encouraging the spread of best practice. That need not involve a lot of extra funding. Local councils have a reputation for very careful spending. They are wholly dependent for funding on a precept levied on their district councils, which amounts to only a few per cent of the revenue. However, the Government might consider providing some special innovatory funds--perhaps ring-fenced--to stimulate local councils to take new initiatives and to copy the examples set by the more enterprising of their number.

Finally, there is one glaring injustice which could and should and, I hope, will be corrected in the local government Bill. For some reason which I cannot fathom, local councils are prohibited by the Local Government Act 1972 not only from paying councillors any allowances but even from reimbursing councillors for expenses which they incur, including the cost of attending meetings of, or on behalf of, their council held within the borders of their town.

Perhaps I may give an illustration from my own town council. Loughton Town Council has 22 councillors, two-thirds of whom are past retirement age while at least half a dozen have no access to a car. Loughton is about three miles from north to south. To save money, the council and its committees meet in a council hall at the northernmost extremity of the town, far from where many of the councillors live. The cost of a single bus fare is about £1. So a councillor may easily spend £50 or more per year on travel alone, to say nothing of the cost of using the telephone. That is quite a sum when one is drawing an old age pension. Loughton is relatively compact. There must be areas where the cost of being a councillor is very much greater. I know for a fact that potentially valuable councillors may be put off accepting nomination because of the prospective cost to their own purses.

The different treatment of district and local councils under the 1972 Act is indefensible in principle and is, in practice, likely to exclude a significant proportion of our citizens from standing for election. So far as I can ascertain, the reasons for treating local councillors differently from district councillors were never discussed in either House during the passage of the 1972 Act. However, the then Conservative Minister Lord Sandford said:

    "We are all agreed that the allowances should be such that good potential members are not dissuaded from serving on local councils by financial restraints or worries".--[Official Report, 18/9/72; col. 846.]

I would feel happy if the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, who is to speak after me, felt able to support the views of his predecessor, as I can assure my noble friend that if the local government Bill removes that obvious anomaly, it will win support from all sides of the Chamber.

7 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, as we debate the gracious Speech, I must admit to some doubt about where the Government's policy is taking us. At least I have the comfort that I am in good company. Like my

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noble friend Lord Strathclyde when he moved his amendment to the humble Address, I find the gracious Speech has little coherence.

I begin with one aspect of it. No doubt many others will have been picked out before the debate ends. I quote:

    "A Bill will be introduced to give people greater access to the countryside and to improve protection for wildlife".

All my life I have lived with the countryside as my home. It does not take deep study to realise that those two ambitions are in conflict with each other. The biggest threat to wildlife is the pressures that we, the people, place on the countryside.

There are many aspects to this subject. Both agriculture and housing are obvious points. My noble friend Lord Bowness has already explained the problems that all communities in the South East now face as a result of having to face the possibility of a greatly increased rate of development, resulting from new calculations by the Government's own inspectors which have recently been published.

I recall in that report that such a sentiment was expressed and the inspectors concluded that the South East should suffer or be sacrificed for the sake of the rest of the country. If the Government accept that report, as my noble friend has already said, it will mean overturning the basis on which planning has operated in the South East until now and indeed the policies on which the Government were elected.

My noble friend Lord Crickhowell made some interesting comments on this problem. Like him, I find it distasteful that there are houses that cannot be sold in many parts of the country when there is huge pressure for development in the South East. In talking to young people in places like Newcastle one understands that many of them see no future unless they move to the South East. Although a great deal has been done to tackle the problems in their area, there is still an acute problem which must be dealt with.

As for agriculture--what a dismissive way to put it--only recently it has become possible for the country to live with some certainty that food can be purchased from anywhere in the world and so our home farming industry can be disregarded. I use that word advisedly. That is how I interpret an interview given a short time ago by the Prime Minister on our local television channel. The message seemed to be: accept our regulation, change and compete or go out of business. The second part of that message would be easier to swallow if the first part applied to all the competitors of the United Kingdom's farming industry.

In reality, an industry with high standards that is highly regulated is being squeezed in the name of the consumer by competitors with weaker currencies who largely escape the same regulations but who are able to sell here at much lower prices. So many noble Lords have spelled out the detail of the effect of that on the agricultural industry.

As a nation we sacrificed farming in the latter years of the last century and we did it again after the First World War. Farmers have long memories and they are

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not particularly surprised by what is happening. However, they are disappointed and they will not forget. In the meantime the public are to be granted uncontrolled access to much more of the countryside which will put quiet places under even more intense pressure. Wildlife will suffer.

It is all very well to give greater protection to sites of special scientific interest and it is all very well to talk about positive management and penalties for damage, but if those sites are simply oases in a sea of intensive farming the survival of farmers will be in danger. I know one farmer who will survive. He has 3,600 acres of arable land for which he has only two full-time employees. If the countryside is to survive as we know it at present something has to be done to improve the profitability of the agricultural sector at large. I shall be interested to see what the Bill contains--when we finally receive it--as it sets out to resolve those particular conflicts.

I quote again from the gracious Speech:

    "A Bill will be brought forward to reform local government to make it more innovative and accountable".

In this case we have some idea of the changes that the Bill may contain because it was well signalled in our preceding Session of Parliament and a joint committee of both Houses, as explained by my noble friend Lord Bowness, has already reported on the putative legislation.

That said, I am fascinated that the Government should wish to spread innovative management structures--at least innovative as concerns this country--across the whole country before they have seen whether the experimental introduction that we have only just dealt with will work successfully. After all, it is only a few days since we were considering what is now the Greater London Authority Act in which such ideas were introduced to this country's legislation for the first time.

In British democracy the tradition used to be that members controlled the executive. Now the Government look as though they are about to set aside that principle for a fourth time. First, there is the almost iron control that they exert over their own Members in Parliament so that they can treat Parliament as no more than a slight inconvenience. Secondly, they established the principle as a matter of law in the Greater London Authority Act where the Greater London Assembly is allowed no more than to supervise the actions of the mayor. Thirdly, they reiterated the principle on their absolute insistence that any Labour candidate for mayor shall be allowed to have no ideas except those already in the Labour Party's manifesto. Fourthly, a draft local government Bill seeks to reduce the management power of ordinary members of local authorities, which they are accustomed to exercising, by concentrating those powers either with an elected mayor or within a Cabinet-style arrangement.

Of course, we do not yet know how the Government responded to the report of the joint committee of both Houses. Only when the Bill is published will we know for sure whether the Government are determined on

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this path. If, in winding up the debate, the Minister can give some assurance that the Government have listened to the report, that will be most welcome.

Local government is about providing services to the public. The public themselves are little concerned about the management structure that brings those services to them; all they are interested in are the results. They worry about the schools that their children attend; about the roads that they drive on; about the state of care for the elderly; about security in their homes and whether or not their dustbins are emptied. The Bill does nothing about those things; rather, it is a distraction. So I ask myself why the Government are doing this and I do not like the answer.

It has long been my belief that when Labour was last in opposition it used local government as a tool to attack national government. As a result it knows all too well the damage and problems that local government can cause. Thus it is that it now wishes to adjust the system to bring local government more under control and so avoid possible future problems. Certainly nothing in either the Local Government Act which we passed in the last Session, nor anything in the Greater London Authority Act suggests that Labour has faith in anybody or any institution other than itself. We shall have to look at this projected Bill with great care as it may continue to follow what I regard as an unfortunate precedent.

The Government promised us a busy Session. It is in their character that they wish to give the appearance of great activity and they will certainly achieve that. However, I doubt whether the country will receive commensurate benefit from all this activity, and that is something that we may all come to regret.

7.13 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, a number of noble Lords have remarked on the lack of a mention of agriculture in the Minister's opening remarks this afternoon. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that when the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was concluding the debate on the fourth day last Session, he commented on the serious state of the agricultural industry; on how farm incomes had suffered a serious deterioration over the past two or three years and on how that situation was continuing. He said that he expected it to have serious effects not only on the viability of agriculture, but also on the environment, animal welfare and the rural economy as a whole.

A whole year has passed since then and the situation has worsened to a degree that not even the most pessimistic of us anticipated. Many examples of that have already been given. Over that year, action by the Government has been reactive by way of crisis aid packages with nothing in the way of strategic thinking. Perhaps, therefore, it is not surprising that the Government have had little to say today and could only repeat the statement made so ably last year by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.

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However, I want to look forward. During the coming year the Government have promised a rural White Paper, and it is long overdue. When thinking about that, it struck me what a poor relation rural areas continue to be. Urban areas had the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, to set the scene in his excellent report. He produced some original and sound thinking, including plans for an urban renaissance. Meanwhile, rural areas still get a bureaucratic mess. This Government cannot even make up their mind as to who should be responsible for rural issues, although I believe that they are making some moves in that direction. Unfortunately, they are not organised in a way that makes it simple for other rural partners to deal with them. In my area of the south-west, the rural development working group--on which we are pinning quite high hopes--is co-chaired by MAFF and the Government Office for the region because no one quite knows where the buck stops.

On these Benches, we have long promoted the idea of a rural ministry. At the end of the debate I introduced in the last Session, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that there had been a demand from the Liberal Democrat Benches and elsewhere to create a rural ministry of some kind, but that when examined in detail that had no great logic. However, I am pleased to say that the Government now appear to have accepted that there is some merit in that approach and are making a start with a Cabinet committee. If rural areas are ever to get a reasonable deal, they need a coherent approach. I shall outline the three ways in which they are getting a raw deal at the moment. Do the Bills in the gracious Speech mean that things will improve for our country areas or will current inequalities be exacerbated?

Inequalities fall into three categories: funding, infrastructure and democracy. In relation to funding, people who live in rural areas are "worth" less per head than those in urban areas, according to the funding formulas of this Government--and in fact the previous government--in terms of local government services. Does it cost less to deliver personal social services to an elderly person in a village than in a city? Of course not. Does it cost less to educate a child in Dorset than in London? Of course not. Although a small amount is given for sparcity consideration--around £16 per head--total government funding per capita is £656 for somebody in Somerset, £750 for people in most shire counties, and a wonderful £1,350 for people in Inner London. The Government need to explain that inequality and work towards getting rid of it.

Last year, CAP reform seemed to offer rural areas a ray of bright hope. But the Government opted to keep the Thatcher rebate intact, which benefits areas chosen by government. I am sure that some rural areas benefit, but minimal CAP reform happened and, as before, most lost out.

The rural development regulation money would offer some hope, but this Government must put in serious matching funding. Despite the critical state of the rural economy, the Government are still planning

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to invest substantially less in our rural areas than does virtually every other European Union country. The Government need to look seriously at the question of modulation and whether some money can be redirected not back into the Treasury funds--that is what so many fear will happen if modulation is taken away--but into rural development schemes.

The Government must produce proper matched funding for those schemes. Many of them are currently substantially underfunded but are actually "win-win" schemes; that is, the farmer receives money to produce the goods the public want and the countryside that supports its wildlife. Organic farming has got it right. The Government have given a little more conversion funding in that regard, but it is still enormously underfunded, as is the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. People in this country clearly want to buy local produce produced to high standards and to have animal welfare taken into account.

Some pro-active local authorities have started farmers' markets. In the south-west, for instance, they are expanding to more than just a niche. But what specific help are the Government planning to give to enable this sort of self-help for agriculture to develop? They have not planned a farmers' market Bill. There is still in existence an archaic law that prevents new markets being set up within a radius of six and two-thirds miles of existing markets--a day's horse-ride. That does not make much sense these days.

The draft rural strategies of the regional development agencies are proving a disappointment so far. They have failed to make the links between economic strategies and rural policies and have left the environment trailing a poor third. I hope that they improve before they are put in their final form. I hope that the Government will put pressure on them to do so.

I turn for a moment to the infrastructure. One of the most exciting Bills in the gracious Speech might well be that which introduces more innovation in terms in e-commerce and e-government. The new Bill should promote the use of new technologies, yet I wonder whether the Government realise how many areas of rural Britain are still not served by ISDN lines. In fact, I gather that the fibre optic cabling programme contains no medium or long-term plans to provide broad band access to all areas. If even in this new area of technology, rural areas will lose out before that technology has even begun, there is very little hope for them.

The Post Office Bill should be an opportunity for rural post offices, but many fear that it will be a threat. What sort of criteria do the Government intend to use when they specify the sort of services that communities can expect?

I shall not consider the housing issue in depth but rural areas are still badly in need of affordable housing. Again, there is funding inequality. Ten per cent of Britain's population live in smaller settlements of fewer than 3,000 people and yet 4 per cent of Housing Corporation money is allocated to provide affordable housing for people in villages. What inequality!

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A number of noble Lords have touched on the subject of transport. It is time that funding for rural transport schemes is provided long term. It is no use the local authorities--although they are grateful for the money--being given it in dollops of very short-term funding which, if they do not use it, is taken away. Transport requires long-term development and planning so that the community can work out how it wants to develop it and not how to spend money in a short time.

I shall touch briefly on energy. Wind farms have been mentioned in a rather negative way. One of the more exciting things I saw in the summer was at Swaffham where the community now has a huge wind generator towering over the town. It provides energy. I believe that it is a splendid backdrop. The town must gain some satisfaction from providing its own renewable energy.

In democratic terms, rural areas will lose out under the local government Bill. I do not believe that it is a Bill about innovation, but about replacing one set of rigid structures with another. The proposed new structures are completely unsuited to three-tier areas where "county and district" is already a confusing concept to most members of the public. How many mayors will a rural market town have? A town mayor indirectly elected by the town council; a county mayor directly elected, a district mayor and so on? I hope that the Government are not thinking that that will make matters more accountable to local residents. I very much hope that the Bill will seek to encourage good partnership working between the different tiers. Real community planning might then take place.

Finally, the access to the countryside Bill will mean that more of the population will have an opportunity to appreciate the beautiful areas of this country. That is quite right. But the way in which that is implemented is very important. I hope that the Bill will be drafted to answer the crucial questions of proper mapping, proper signing and how to close areas so that wildlife is not badly affected. What about the liability of people on the land? So far the Government have dodged the question, but it is crucial both to the landowner and the people using the land.

The existing rights-of-way network is equally important. The open countryside will serve for the long day out, but, for many, access to a properly signed and mapped network of footpaths and bridleways is as important. Surely we do not want everyone to have to drive to the coast or the moors just for a walk.

The national parks are leaders in integrating regional recreational demands with economic development for residents. I believe that there are many lessons to be learnt from them. I am glad that the Government are thinking of creating two more national parks. They have many lessons for the rest of countryside on how to manage such issues.

For a government with a majority and resources to achieve some visionary themes, I believe that the lack of vision for the future of our countryside, except as a recreation area, is disappointing. Perhaps the most positive measure mentioned this evening is protection

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for wildlife, which is long overdue. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, mentioned, it must not be "oasis" protection. There must be broad protection for vulnerable species, and sites, and for the common wildlife, which, if we do not protect it, will become rare.

7.16 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I am not sure whether I am the only person who feels that the advent of computers for all has resulted in an order of magnitude increase in typographical errors. Moreover, there was a time when those who did their typing knew and understood the rules of grammar. Nowadays, when all manner of managers, civil servants and even politicians do their own typing, it is much less likely.

However, I have decided, on mature reflection, that it was no error which coupled "greater access to the countryside" and "improved protection for wildlife" without even a precautionary comma between them. Perhaps by this device the Government intend that, like love and marriage, man and wife, death and taxes, it shall be clear that access and wildlife protection are to be two sides of the same coin; that, as an old song says, "You can't have one without the other"; that without improved protection greater access will not be allowed. Like my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, I have difficulty in believing it.

Two decades of farming and land management have convinced me that protecting wildlife--in which category I include flora as well as fauna--requires special and specific measures. While wishing to ensure better access to the countryside, generally speaking opening up access makes things worse for wildlife. At all times, there is need for balance.

The market gardener has to protect his crop from rabbits, deer and birds or he will have no produce; the forester has to protect his young trees from deer, cattle and sheep, but at the same time the land manager will wish to help the deer survive and may wish to encourage and reintroduce indigenous species such as the red squirrel.

Most people know by now that the red squirrel has been driven out by the grey, but few are aware that unless we intervene positively it will become extinct in these isles. Positive intervention will probably not be enhanced by non-permissive access unless great care is given to that access. Will the Bill recognise that? Will it allow proper time, research and funding into what is required to encourage and protect wildlife before it gives carte blanche to free access? The population must have adequate access to the countryside; most of us agree on that. I believe that the argument relates to the question: what is the correct access to the countryside?

Many landowners, including myself, already allow ramblers and other associations access to their land. In return they expect, and largely get, responsible behaviour. That is particularly true of permissive access. Will that pattern continue when there is non-permissive access on moorland, heath and downland? We understand that the Government intend to allow for the closure of land during the breeding season and

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for other environmental or safety reasons. But what will the closures involve and will they be different in different places? Will farmers and land managers find themselves faced with additional costs for signposts, advertisements in local papers, web pages on the Internet, and for additional wardens and keepers?

Who will pay to put right the things that go wrong-- the casual damage to walls, stiles and paths; and the collection and disposal of sandwich boxes and soft drink cans, to say nothing of old cars, fridges and cookers? It is no use the Government putting their head in the sand and pretending that this does not occur; it does. Who will be liable for the rambler, wearing the wrong sort of footwear, who twists his ankle in a rabbit hole? The Government have indicated that the landowner will be responsible. Who will foot the bill when a small child wanders away from its elders and gets lost, necessitating wholesale searches by police and the Army?

The whole area of finance is of critical importance. Hitherto, the countryside was looked after and developed by people who mainly knew its worth and had a vested interest in maintaining it in good shape. The vast majority of our much-prized countryside has been developed for agriculture and blood sports. The danger of this Bill is that it will usher in an era when the countryside will be seen as belonging to people who have no vested interest and who know little about it, far less its worth. Will the Government pay for its upkeep? Will the Government even listen to those who have protected it, nurtured it and valued it for the last millennium? Caring for an asset usually occurs where there is ownership of the asset. Ownership goes hand in hand with the privileges and responsibility of owning an asset.

Those who live and work in rural areas are finding it hard to survive. We have heard from many noble Lords about farm incomes, but I should like to add that in 1995 one could buy a three-bedroomed house in Fulham for the equivalent of 4,000 tonnes of grain. Today the same house would cost 11,000 tonnes of grain.

Villagers are finding themselves driven out by the costs of living in an environment where local jobs are more scarce, where local shops are closing down, and where local public transport is becoming rarer. What is more, local community hospitals have come under increasing threat of closure from this Government. What we need is compassion, care and contributions to help their way of life. Most damaging is the psychological effect on farmers who perceive their industry as no longer valued by their customers and by their Government. What they are being offered is an extended takeover by their Government who put constraints in their way of life yet demand free access to their way of life.

It is true that the Government have said that they wish to strengthen support for SSSIs and have indicated that they are prepared to consider ways of making rights of way more user-friendly, both for ramblers and for all those whose land they cross. All good stuff. I hope that the countryside is allowed a say

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in this process. We are quite prepared to endorse measures which will achieve those ends, but we are not satisfied that the Government understand why SSSIs need support and why footpaths are so often neglected and impassable. It comes down to finance and regulation.

The work of organisations like the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers is vital to the maintenance of such access as is already available. Its members raise their own funds and work with local authorities to earn grants and subsidies to pay for materials and expert help where it is needed. But it is hamstrung by regulation just as everyone else is. Unless the Government are prepared to listen to the experts, these bodies and others will eventually be lost.

The British landscape has evolved over centuries. It has cost taxpayers little or nothing. Indeed, agriculture of the landscape is a £2 billion industry. The landscape is the part which attracts millions of tourist every year to these isles. It contributes both to the nation's wealth and to its spiritual well-being. Land managers have created and cared for much of our landscape as we know it today. It needs to be nurtured and developed sympathetically and carefully. It does not deserve to be used and abused in the name of populist desires where rights are not matched by responsibilities and man's whims ride roughshod over nature's priorities.

7.34 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, as someone who very recently went through the ordeal of making a maiden speech, it gives me enormous pleasure to congratulate my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Hudnall and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, on their contributions to the debate this afternoon. Like all noble Lords, I was struck by the fluency and the content of both their speeches. I look forward to hearing many more contributions from them in the future.

This is an extraordinarily wide-ranging debate. I do not envy my noble friend the Minister having to reply to it at the end of the evening; nor, indeed, those on the Front Benches of the parties opposite. I intend to speak on what I think will be one of the most controversial and hard-fought ingredients in the legislative programme; namely, the Government's proposals for substantial transport reform and particularly their plans for the railways.

In the short time that I have been here, I have been struck by how many of your Lordships have had extensive and serious interests in transport policy. That is true of Members on every Bench. In earlier times the old railway companies would have appointed many Members of your Lordships' House to sit on their boards and, indeed, would have named their locomotives after them. Today we have in the House at least one former chairman of the railways board, a retired railway trade union general secretary, a former regional general manager, a number of right reverend Prelates who seem to love railways almost as much as they love their Church and so many former Ministers of transport in all parties that they are much to numerous to count.

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By comparison, my contribution to railway politics has been modest, but I did serve four successive chairmen of the British Railways Board over the 20 years up to 1998. Like Mr Brian Hanrahan, reporting for the BBC on the aircraft in the Falklands War, I counted them all in and I counted them all out. I should have liked to say that over those 20 years the railways steadily improved and that each change--whether of government, Minister or chairman--was for the better. I cannot claim that. But I believe that the policies of the present Government offer more hope of getting it right than has been the case for many years. In my time with the board there were a number of false dawns over and over again. But each time the determination of the Treasury to reduce the railway subsidy and to curtail investment won against the well-meaning desires of most transport Ministers to expand and invest.

There was a variety of schemes intended to achieve those objectives. One attempt to save money was to increase fares in real terms by far more than the rate of inflation. But that was abandoned because of the backlash from voters in marginal commuter constituencies in the south-east. Another solution, which was attempted several times, was massively to reduce the size of the network--the Serpell Report of the early 1980s, which some of your Lordships may remember, would have cut it by two-thirds. But that would have wiped out railways in most of Scotland and Wales and in rural England. So that disappeared from the agenda.

The combination of Treasury interference and, I fear, departmental indifference to the railways often reminded me of the words in the poem by Arthur Hugh Clough:

    "Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive

Officiously to keep alive".

These are reasons why the principle of railway privatisation no longer fills me with as much revulsion as once it did. There are, of course, numerous political points that can be scored against the party opposite: for its indecent haste in getting all the industry sold off or, in many cases, given away before the 1997 election; for the incompetent mistakes in the legislation, such as forgetting about the role of the British Transport Police, who temporarily lost their powers of arrest until they were restored by a new separate Act of Parliament; and for inventing a new breed of animal--the railway fat cat--who was able to spot where assets were being sold so cheaply that he was able to turn tiny investments with no risk into vast fortunes because the taxpayer was guaranteeing future income streams.

The list is almost endless. The Public Accounts Committee in another place has so far only scratched at the surface. But--and there is a "but"--some good things have happened since privatisation. A heartening development has been the increase in the number of people using the railways. Some of this has been due to the state of the economy, because more people always travel when the economy is doing well. Some of this growth can be accounted for by the introduction of new services, the re-opening of lines, the creation of new journey opportunities and so on.

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One of the most important new routes is scarcely three miles from your Lordships' House--the West London line--which 10 or so years ago was the prime candidate for complete closure and conversion to a road. It is easy to forget that tearing up tracks and covering them with concrete was being seriously put forward as a transport policy very recently.

There are train operating companies which are doing their best to demonstrate that rail travel has a future. They are investing in new rolling stock, implementing imaginative timetable improvements, making their stations more attractive and genuinely looking for new markets. They should be praised and encouraged. I certainly would have no objection to their being given the opportunity to go on developing their services through franchise extensions.

Others are letting the public and the nation down and seem to believe that glitzy PR is a substitute for a reliable and effective service. Why can they not tell their passengers the truth when things go wrong? Why can they not ensure that the advertised on-train services match up to what they promise? The companies which are failing would frankly do us and themselves a favour if they concluded that their skills should be directed to activities other than running railways.

There is no point in dwelling on the past. We must make the best of what we have. That means using those provisions in the previous government's Railways Act which can play a part in delivering a better railway and more sane transport policy and making certain that its weaknesses and omissions are addressed in the new transport Bill. The two essential elements are more effective regulation and the establishment of the strategic railway authority. I warmly welcome the Government's commitment to tougher regulation and I believe that the new regulator, Tom Winsor, has made an excellent start. He recognises that the public are running out of patience and that the pace of improvement in the industry is currently much too slow.

There is no part of the railway industry which needs to change more than Railtrack and Mr Winsor is right to have it in his sights. In August this year he started enforcement action against the company because it failed to meet its annual performance targets. In October he published a consultation document on its incentive framework to make certain that Railtrack improves the capability, quality and performance of its network. Earlier this month he demanded that the company produce proper plans for meeting its commitments to extra capacity as part of the upgrade of the West Coast main line, having failed to complete adequate strategic reviews despite promising in March that it would. This is putting Railtrack in breach of its network licence and I understand that Mr Winsor is considering adding to and rewriting that licence.

Railtrack has to appreciate that the world has changed. By the time John Swift, Mr Winsor's predecessor, left office, he had all the same powers as Mr Winsor has today, but he scarcely ever used them.

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The licence that Railtrack operates under is quite clear. It states,

    "The purpose is to secure:

    (a) the maintenance of the network

    (b) the renewal and the replacement of the network

    (c) the improvement, enhancement and development of the network

    in each case in accordance with best practice and in a timely, economic and efficient manner".

Underlying all this--we should remember that the licence was signed by the previous government, not this one--is a recognition that Railtrack has responsibilities first to the public interest and to those of us who use the railway before the interests of shareholders.

The relationship between Railtrack and the train operating companies has to change. It is not healthy for the TOCs to be intimidated by Railtrack and to be fearful of speaking out when it is necessary to do so. They must learn to insist that their contractual rights are honoured by their suppliers. The 1993 Act makes it clear that there are special public interest obligations on Railtrack which go far beyond simply ensuring that the dividends keep flowing and the shareholders are kept happy. There is, for example, a special duty on Railtrack--which can be enforced by the regulator under the powers given to him by Section 17 of the Railways Act--to use its property in a way that promotes and furthers the interests of the operational railway. That is something to which the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, referred earlier.

Railway land must be made available for facilities and developments which attract freight and extra passengers and create high quality interchange between rail and other modes of transport such as bus, cycling and walking. The temptation to make a quick profit from selling railway land for non-railway related developments must be resisted if the land has transport potential.

Railway regulation is not that different from that which was applied to all the utility monopolies which were privatised by the previous government. The one big difference is that unlike regulation in gas, electricity, water and telecoms, regulation of Railtrack was almost non-existent until Mr Winsor took office this summer. I welcome that and I also welcome the emphasis that the gracious Speech laid on railway safety and the flexibility that--

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