Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether there was a debate about the so-called "constitutionalisation" of the treaties during all these discussions--that is to say, their re-drafting in a form that will make them more comprehensible both to the expert and to the ordinary citizen? If the answer is yes, can the noble Baroness say what the Government's attitude towards this possible development might be?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot help the noble Lord as regards whether that matter was discussed at Nice. However, as he is probably aware, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister mentioned in a speech in Warsaw that in enhancing communication between the European institutions, whether they be the European Parliament, the Commission or the Council, some greater clarity in some of the documents and the rules and regulations relating to the Commission would be helpful. In that regard he specifically mentioned the treaties being made, as it were, user friendly. Therefore I am sure that I can say without fear of contradiction that, although I do not know whether the matter was discussed at Nice, it is something of which my right honourable friend would certainly be in favour.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that far from being "mugged" at Nice, as was widely predicted by the Opposition, the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister emerged with Britain's interests intact? Have not the discussions at Nice resulted in a wider, more democratic Europe than was envisaged in the past? Will this House and the House of Commons have an

11 Dec 2000 : Column 134

opportunity to discuss in detail the text which has been adumbrated at Nice by the Government and which we understand will be placed in the Library in due course?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am happy to confirm to my noble friend that the treaty in its full form will be placed in the Library of the House. I hope that that will occur not in due course but by tomorrow morning. That may be an optimistic assumption, but it is the one I have been given. I agree with my noble friend's comments as regards the way in which the Government and, indeed, the UK have emerged from the discussions at Nice. It confirms the Government's position that it is in Britain's interests to play a leading part in Europe and in the development of Europe. That will be in the best interests both of this country and of Europe as a whole. On the question of another debate, I understand that there will be a debate on the European defence aspects of the treaty later this week. Further debate, as I always say, is a matter for the usual channels.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I wonder whether I can press the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on two questions put to her by my noble friend Lord Howell which I think, with respect, she has not quite answered yet. I appreciate that she has admitted the fact that the common agricultural policy was not discussed at Nice. But would she go so far as to agree that enlargement of the Community is actually impossible until reform of the common agricultural policy takes place? That does seem to be an important block on all these glorious achievements towards enlargement with which, of course, some of us do not agree. Many of us feel that the applicant nations, being the new democracies and the emerging economies of eastern Europe, really only need access to the market which is denied them and defence through NATO.

But be that as it may, my second question concerns the aspect of defence. I do not know whether the noble Baroness saw a leader in The Times--I believe that it appeared on Saturday--which quoted the very last paragraphs of the annex or protocol which is to be attached to the defence agreement, as I understand it. That made it absolutely clear that the defence force is planning independent EU control of military action. It ends by stating that it will communicate with NATO in a form appropriate at the time. Since this is a matter which seems to worry the American Secretary of State, Mr Cohen, and others in the American administration, can the noble Baroness be absolutely clear as to whether that annex is in place and will be signed up to, or what is the status of the defence initiative?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Lord says that I admitted that the CAP was not discussed at Nice. That was not due to some failure, as it were, of the Government or of anyone else to insist that it was tabled. It was not on the agenda and was never intended to be on it. As I said in my rather belated answer to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, it is something which the Government take seriously in the

11 Dec 2000 : Column 135

context of general reform of the European Union. I do not go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in saying that enlargement without CAP reform is impossible. It is obviously an important element in that regard and, as I said earlier, it is a matter to which the Government continue to give important emphasis. However, as I say, it was not on the agenda at Nice.

On the question of defence, my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, who is seated beside me, prompts me to say that many of the details will be relevant to the debate on this subject which is to take place on Thursday. When we talk about the Americans' concerns we must emphasise that Mr Cohen said that if co-operation and collaboration between NATO and a European rapid reaction force were badly carried out it would be of concern to the Americans. I am sure that no one, let alone my noble friend Lady Symons or her colleagues in the Ministry of Defence or, indeed, anyone in Europe or in the Pentagon, wishes it to be badly carried out. Therefore, as is so often the case, I do not share the noble Lord's apprehension.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that the Promenade des Anglais in Nice is appropriately named given that the Government have walked all over the Euroscepticism of at least some of the flaneurs on the Benches opposite? Does she further agree that the universal support for that British initiative of a rapid reaction force nicely exemplifies the Government's positive approach of being in Europe but not running away from it?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, looking at the clock, I am tempted to say yes and yes. I am not sure that I can respond to my noble friend's "franglais" or to his aphorisms. However, both seem to me to be correct.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech.

4.57 p.m.

Debate resumed.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, it was somewhat disappointing that there was little or nothing on the environment in the gracious Speech, particularly on climate change, although I am glad that the Minister referred to that in her opening remarks.

The recent heavy rain and flooding in many parts of the country remind us that our present climate is extremely volatile. November saw the heaviest rainfall since records began. The effect of this climate change overseas is truly devastating. As we know, Mozambique was particularly badly hid by floods earlier this year while 1998, for example, was the hottest year on record. Flooding of the Yangtze River

11 Dec 2000 : Column 136

displaced 56 million people and 26 million were made homeless in Bangladesh. Hurricane Mitch killed 18,000 people.

All the evidence points to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as the main culprit. Due to bubbles of air being trapped under polar ice, we are able to know how much carbon dioxide was around in the air over the past 400,000 years. It is possible to show from these records the relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide and global temperature. New Scientist reported only a couple of months ago that,

    "Levels of CO2 are now well on the way to those found in the Eocene period when the world was ice-free and England was a steaming mangrove forest".

Over 80 per cent of this increased carbon dioxide has come from industrialised societies over the past 150 years, yet it is developing countries that are suffering the most from climate change, as will future generations. All this highlights the tragedy of the recent failure of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change at The Hague and the need for Her Majesty's Government to continue to work at reaching agreement.

At Kyoto in 1997, industrialised nations signed a protocol agreeing to reduce their emissions from 1990 levels by the period 2010-12. The reduction target varies slightly for different countries. For the European Union, it is 8 per cent. The targets are relatively modest when viewed against the recommendation of scientists that we shall need to reduce global emissions by 60 per cent in order to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and avoid the most serious of possible climate change impacts.

The purpose of The Hague meeting was, of course, to see whether the Kyoto protocol could be ratified and hence implemented by appropriate legislation in each country's Parliament. Unfortunately, as we know, no agreement was reached.

At The Hague, the faith groups had three particular concerns. The first was international emissions trading. Under the Kyoto protocol, industrial countries whose emissions will be higher than their targets can purchase credits from those whose emissions will be lower than their targets. Some, such as Canada, Japan and the United States, are anxious to purchase credits from sellers such as Russia and other eastern European countries. Russia now emits about 30 per cent less carbon dioxide than it did in 1990, but that is the result not of energy efficiency action, but because the economies of those countries have collapsed since the 1990 base year. Such an emissions trading system will not have a concrete benefit for the atmosphere in terms of actually reducing emissions that would otherwise have been produced. The principle of environmental integrity will be compromised.

The second concern was the clean development mechanism, which is a trading system that allows richer industrialised countries that invest in cleaner technologies in poorer developing countries to earn

11 Dec 2000 : Column 137

credits for the carbon dioxide emission savings. There is a concern that such projects will include energy produced by nuclear reactors, which raises huge issues of safety and disposal.

Thirdly, there is the question of so-called "carbon sinks". It is true that sinks such as forests, soils and vegetation store carbon, thus removing it from the atmosphere, but that is problematical for a number of reasons. Forests are not permanent removers of carbon dioxide. For example, the carbon is rereleased into the atmosphere when the trees die or forests burn. Applying credit from carbon sinks against reduction targets lessens the amount by which emissions have to be reduced, hence diminishing the pressure to make the longer-term changes in industrial and consumer practices and the technical innovations in energy systems that are needed to move us away from a fossil-fuel-based economy. Unfortunately, some countries, such as Canada and the United States, argue that they should be allowed to meet much of their reduction target through the use of sinks, as well as including sinks in the so-called "clean development mechanism".

All the major religions are active in working to protect the environment. They believe that faith communities have a special contribution to make in this area. There is now a formal Alliance of Religions and Conservation, which has gained the support of a good number of faith groups and their leaders world-wide. They will continue to press for real reductions in carbon dioxide, particularly in the developing world.

What about the position of Her Majesty's Government? A clear strategy has been published. The UK climate change programme includes policies that could cut UK greenhouse gas emissions by 23 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010--almost double the legally binding target. Although that is less than the 60 to 70 per cent globally that may be necessary in the long term, it is a welcome target. What plans are there for monitoring the achievement of that target and when do the Government envisage issuing a report on progress?

What has happened since The Hague conference to achieve international agreement? As I understand it, the United States will have great difficulty meeting its target. It will certainly require drastic action. As I have already said, the Americans are trying to offset the real emission reductions that they should be trying to achieve by the use of flexible mechanisms. Again, as I understand it, the majority of European countries are unwilling to allow so much of their target to be offset in that way, but Mr Prescott was willing to go much further to meet the American position.

It is reported by sources close to the United States delegation that the final gap between the United States and the European Union amounted to only 0.25 per cent of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide. However, that needs to be seen in perspective. In the United States, 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person is released into the atmosphere. That compares with only 2 tonnes per person in China, 1 tonne per person in India and less than 0.18 of a tonne for many African countries. Although flexible agreements were allowed

11 Dec 2000 : Column 138

as part of the Kyoto agreement, it would not be right for the United States and other developed countries to forgo making real reductions in emissions and gloss over what is happening by using some of the flexible mechanisms that I have mentioned. There is particular doubt about the intentions of the United States on the various subsections dealing with forests.

Is it possible to say how far there is a common mind among the Europeans and between Europe and the United States? I hope that none of us needs convincing that this is a crucial issue for the future of the planet--for our grandchildren and great grandchildren, and even more pressing for the present children of those in the developing world, who are suffering even now from global warming. It is vital not only that we achieve the targets that we have set ourselves, but that Europe and the United States agree on real reductions, not just paper ones.

5.6 p.m.

Lord Morgan: My Lords, I call for the traditional indulgence of the House for a maiden speaker. All maiden speakers recognise this as a moment of unbridled terror for all novices, as it was for Disraeli, whose maiden speech, Greville told us, "degenerated into ludicrous absurdity". It is worse still for one who is not only no Disraeli, but a total political novice. My last vaguely political speech was made such a long time ago that at the time the Labour party was led by Mr Hugh Gaitskell.

Since then I have spent my time as a historian--perhaps not in a helpful way. I have written in particular about the career of David Lloyd George, who ended up as an Earl, but whose observations about the House of Lords would strain the conventions of impartiality of a maiden speech. I then went on to write about Kier Hardie, who was even more hostile. He was a republican and would not have been in favour of a Queen's Speech at all, let alone a debate on it.

However, this occasion gives me the opportunity to thank everybody in the House of Lords, not only the Members of the House, but the staff, the attendants in the Chamber and others, for the great courtesy and kindness that they have shown me. The mystery of this House is a matter of tone and style. The deep civility that is evident to newcomers and novices is greatly appreciated.

I have spent most of my time as a university teacher and sometime vice-chancellor, so I shall focus on education, which, as we have heard, is central to the Government's public agenda. Perhaps it has been so since the famous Ruskin speech 24 years ago by my noble friend Lord Callaghan, about whose life I was privileged to write.

I particularly welcome the initiatives that my noble friend Lady Blackstone mentioned on higher education, stressing its importance and its centrality not only to our knowledge economy, but to the moral economy that underpins it. There is to be a considerable increase in expenditure--nearly

11 Dec 2000 : Column 139

1 billion in the next three years, we are told. That will be enormously valuable to a supremely civilising and empowering force in society.

Congratulating the Government on their enthusiasm and support for higher education does not strain the conventions of impartiality of a maiden speech, because governments of both parties have played a major part in the considerable development of education, about which I am very upbeat, perhaps unusually.

The 1990s has been the greatest period of growth in higher education in this country since the Robbins report all those years ago. It is right to think of higher education as an essentially bipartisan issue. The Open University was initiated by that famous lady Jennie Lee and saved by the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher.

I was a vice-chancellor in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Legend has it that this was a time of confrontation between university teachers, many of them on the Left, and a Conservative government. Although I sit on these Benches, I have to say that that was not my impression or experience. I found it a stimulating, liberal time. It was somewhat bewildering. Secretaries of State for Education changed almost as rapidly as managers of the England football team--although they were all British. It was a time of great liberation. The mere fact of expansion was enormously stimulating and a great source of hope to those of us in the university profession.

Another important factor was the reduction of constraints, in particular financial constraints, on what universities could do. It was possible to be far more innovative and managerially enterprising as a result of that process. However, it left problems. The Government's approach is dealing with many of the problems that remained. In my experience as a vice-chancellor, it was a very uncertain enterprise. The funding horizons seemed to change rapidly. We have a clearer, more distinct and definable horizon over the next few years in the light of what we heard in the public spending review. I believe that the fact that it was to a great extent unresourced expansion is also being dealt with. The next process will be to deal with the problems of specific groups, in particular the fact that the uptake by mature students, so central to the process of lifelong learning, is in some difficulties at present. I take great comfort from the experience in and knowledge of that area of my noble friend Lady Blackstone.

I also welcome the fact that the pay of those in the higher education profession--it has been appalling for many years--shows some signs of improvement. It was always a great matter of embarrassment when appointing university staff at all levels. The fact that we now have extra funds earmarked for the recruitment and retention of staff is valuable.

On that basis I believe that the prospects are hopeful. In what is an expensive area of public provision we now need a conceptual breakthrough to recognise that our universities and other institutions are equal in status but diverse in their roles. In time

11 Dec 2000 : Column 140

that will mean the diversity in their roles being extended into diversity of funding. It is clear that there is variation between universities which retain, for example, specialised graduate schools and those concerned with raising the skills of young and mature people in inner cities or former mining areas. The funding mechanism may have to be appraised.

My other points may be more germane to what we have just heard about the Nice conference. Higher and further education are linked with two other aspects of government policies, both of which I strongly welcome: devolution and relations with Europe. We have had devolution in Scotland and Wales. It is about much more than the machinery of government. It is a fount of social power. I hope that it will lead to the higher education sector of this country playing the kind of role undertaken by universities, technical institutions and so on in other parts of Europe. For example, universities and scientific specialist institutions in Baden-Wurttemberg have been central to development of that part of Germany. That has been the mainspring of the regeneration of Western Germany. Germany is a federal country. We are not a federal society. However, I hope that in Scotland, Wales and the regions of England that kind of initiative can be taken: that devolution can be a motor for change. For example, it would be valuable to see regional initiatives for higher education from Scotland, Wales and the English regions directly to Brussels rather than being emasculated by central government.

Finally, Europe seems an enormously liberating area for higher education in this country. That ties in with the encouraging news that we have heard from Nice. The connections in research activity between our universities are a tremendous success story, heavily based on Europe through European-based industrial companies, government departments, charities and international agencies. Perhaps I may refer to the range of activities in which the real academic Oxford (about which one does not always hear) has engaged. It is noticeable that Oxford, Cambridge and other British universities are extraordinarily successful in achieving funding from the framework or other aspects of the EU. The figures for the EU as a whole are 18 per cent and 27 per cent for Oxford. No doubt they are equally promising for other universities.

In Wales, we had our own local initiative of a different kind. The Motor scheme linked Wales with Catalonia, Lombardy, Rhones-Alpes and Baden-Wurttemberg. It enabled institutions at university level to collaborate: to do things in their own territories and in relation to eastern Europe--for example, in connection with technology transfer. It is a somewhat attractive thought for a Welsh-speaking Welshman that the English language was considered to be a useful asset of Wales.

We have heard from Nice about the high politics of Europe. Indeed, Europe is often presented in a very negative way, but as regards education, technical and other factors it seems enormously beneficial. The concept of Brussels is positive and exciting for many of us in education. I hope, therefore, that the

11 Dec 2000 : Column 141

Government's policy in this area can be seen as a whole. It appears to me a success story. Our universities are often unfairly derided. In fact they have enormous international prestige. They are one of the features of the United Kingdom which are universally hailed as of extraordinary high quality. They seem central to our society, almost comparable, as Shelley said of poets, to unacknowledged legislators of mankind. I thank your Lordships for your courtesy.

5.18 p.m.

Lord Rix: My Lords, I am sure that all present in your Lordships' House would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, on his excellent maiden speech. Following the noble Lord makes me feel rather like the proverbial dustcart after the Lord Mayor's Show. The noble Lord is festooned with academic honours, all of them earned in a truly academic way, whereas mine, as a chancellor of a university, merely came up with the rations, so to speak. The noble Lord will be a great addition in your Lordships' House to those who can speak with authority on the subject of education. As noble Lords heard, his recent appointments include that of Senior Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wales, and now as Emeritus Professor of that same university. His Welsh roots run deep and his publications, indicating this, are numerous, as well as indicating a vast knowledge of history. We welcome wholeheartedly the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, to our deliberations and look forward to many of his speeches in the future.

Before I begin my own contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech, perhaps I may beg the Minister's pardon and the indulgence of your Lordships' House if I am not in my place for an hour or two from now onwards. I have a previous engagement at a government reception at Lancaster House to celebrate the launch of the Disability Rights Commission's first campaign, "Actions speak louder than words". The exact time of my return will be governed by the eloquence--some may say, verbosity--or otherwise of the speakers, and I can only hope for the best. However, the Disability Rights Commission seems to be a suitable platform for the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill about which I wish to speak.

Following the debate on the gracious Speech last year, I welcomed proposals for a new piece of legislation to extend disability rights in education. This year, I am delighted to see that those proposals have already begun their passage through Parliament, even as we continue the debate on the gracious Speech.

With the Second Reading a little over a week away, I shall save more detailed comments until that occasion. However, I express my support for the principles enshrined in the new legislation. I believe that we are all familiar with the soundbite, "Education, education, education", already quoted today--one of the Prime Minister's key, if somewhat repetitive, political messages. I am delighted that disabled children will now get a share in that priority.

For too long, parents have struggled to obtain the best education for their children with disabilities. Battles with bureaucracy, poor levels of student

11 Dec 2000 : Column 142

support and discrimination have meant that disabled children have received an inadequate service. There have been some blatant cases of discrimination against young people with learning disabilities, of whom society's expectations are often appallingly low. Such cases must be dealt with.

However, often discrimination is not pre-meditated; it arises out of a lack of planning, imagination and resources to develop the right infrastructure in which disabled children can flourish. New money, if used properly, should go some way to tackling the resource problem. New legislation should provide the impetus for improvements, and a new code of practice should offer a practical guide to the law, leaving less to imagination and chance.

No doubt there are some interesting debates ahead of us on the detail of the Bill, and feelings are likely to run high on a subject about which many noble Lords feel strongly. Therefore, I believe that we are fortunate to be able to draw upon the expertise of the Special Educational Consortium.

Many of us will agree that we want rights for all those who may be in danger of being discriminated against. Those rights should be fully enforceable so that improvements are made to our education system. Many will also agree that parents of disabled children should have a greater choice over their child's education, whether their preference is for a mainstream or a special school, and that obstacles should be removed to mainstream schooling where parents want it. The challenge is to refine the letter of the law in order to create a workable system to achieve those goals.

Having worked last year on the Learning and Skills Act, I feel that this legislation provides an important piece of the jigsaw in the post-16 field. Again, it will be critically important to examine the legislation closely so that those proposals synchronise with the lifelong learning agenda. I am pleased that the post-16 disability consortium will also be available to advise in this field.

In rounding off, I restate my support for the intention to extend disability rights to education and to remove obstacles for those who want to take up a mainstream place. Those are two measures for which disability charities, including Mencap, and even the Government's own Disability Rights Task Force, have fought long and hard.

Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I was dismayed to see the article in yesterday's Sunday Times by Melanie Phillips under the extremely unkind, untrue and unhelpful heading:

    "Children who give schools a vested interest in failure".

Over 1.5 million children will be affected directly by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill. Very few are "disruptive and disturbed youngsters", contrary to Melanie Phillips' belief that such a dismissive description applies to all. It is the fundamental right of all disabled children to enjoy the same choice in education as any other child. Inclusion is not simply an ideology but a means of meeting the wider needs of all in society.

11 Dec 2000 : Column 143

To move from lifelong learning to the subject of lifelong caring may seem something of a quantum leap, but I hope that the Minister and your Lordships' House will permit me to make such a jump, brief though it may be. My concerns may affect many disabled people who will have been able to take advantage of some of the excellent provisions in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill but who will still be living at (and possibly working from) home with elderly parents.

I have had some correspondence with the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, about the Government's helpful but incomplete response to the Royal Commission's report on long-term care. There appears to be no protection for the disabled son or daughter who is not immediately able to stay on in the home once elderly parents have had to go into residential or nursing care--but who may be able to come back once the support package has been arranged.

Large sums of money may have been spent by the appropriate authorities on training facilities or further or higher education for such a disabled person. Considerable additional expenditure will be involved in the complicated process of moving them from place to place, even though they may be gainfully employed. That seems to me to be both financially stupid and morally wrong. I trust that the Government will take all that into consideration when they implement their response to the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care of the Elderly, as promised in the gracious Speech, together with concerns which I have already expressed, particularly in respect of people of any age with cognitive impairment.

However, all that is for another day. For now, I rest my case and look forward to the chance afforded to all of us to make further provision against discrimination in the world of education for literally tens of thousands of disabled people, whether children or adults. This could well prove to be one of the most constructive and humane Bills brought before your Lordships' House in the present Parliament. I wish it well.

5.27 p.m.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I find it both sad and depressing that not once in the gracious Speech did the word "agriculture" occur. What sort of message does that send out to all those who labour long and hard both to produce the food that we eat and to conserve our wonderful countryside?

It is particularly galling at the present time when the vicissitudes of nature and the consequent effects on agriculture seem to be even more marked than at any time that I can remember in the past. Only this morning I drove over the Downs and thought for one moment that a catastrophe had occurred, such as the Great Flood at the time of Noah. The wonderful green valley lying north of Arundel and south of Petworth and Pulborough was one great lake. It was pretty to look at, I grant you, but just think of the consequential

11 Dec 2000 : Column 144

loss of income and genuine human hardship faced by those farmers--the farmers who do not even get a mention in the gracious Speech.

The gracious Speech is strong on house purchase, reducing opportunities to dispose of stolen vehicles, the transparency of export controls and, of course, the future of hunting with dogs, as my noble friend Lady Blatch has already pointed out. I listened avidly when Her Majesty delivered the gracious Speech and then looked at the printed word, but nowhere could I find a word on agriculture, horticulture, food production or farmers' incomes. In addition, there is not a mention of the common agricultural policy and whether the Government might have any progressive, sensible, constructive proposals as to how the CAP should be reformed, as reformed it surely must be.

I grant that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred to agriculture at the tail end of her 24-minute speech in this debate. However, there was absolutely nothing new--no hope for the farmers whose incomes she admitted are "severely depressed" and at their lowest for 30 years.

When I heard that, I wondered whether, if it were any other sector, the Government would be so sanguine, so nonchalant, so detached and so conspicuously uninterested in the concerns of the sector as not to give it even a passing mention in the gracious Speech. Can we imagine the reaction if the Minister had been referring to incomes of teachers being at their lowest for 30 years or if the Minister responsible for the health service in this House were to refer to the fact that the incomes of doctors and nurses were at their lowest for 30 years? We all know that in that case, there would be no lack of concern. But it is no wonder that farmers feel beleaguered and they do not have too many alternative prospects of employment.

I dwell on this point for a further few moments and on the conspicuous absence of the words "agriculture" or "farmers" from the gracious Speech. I guess that one could come to the conclusion that the usual channels, or whoever decides the allocation of subjects to be debated during the debate on the gracious Speech, neither listen to it nor edit it. Otherwise, why do we have a specific mention of the word "agriculture" as a topic for debate today?

The gracious Speech contained one sentence to the effect that,

    "a Bill will be introduced to increase the effectiveness of the power to reduce regulatory burdens by removing inappropriate and over-complex regulation",

and that gave me a pointer to what contribution I might make today.

Last month the Better Regulation Task Force produced a report entitled Environmental Regulations and Farmers, which I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending that anyone who is connected with or interested in agriculture should read. As an aside, it has the considerable merit of being concise--some 39 pages, some of which are only half pages of print--very readable and packed full of serious analysis and thoughtful recommendations. I am told that the report

11 Dec 2000 : Column 145

was largely written by our colleague the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. He is to be complimented. I dare say that that report will be subject to analysis and comment when we come to the Second Reading of the proposed Bill, but I thought that in this debate I should like to draw attention to one of its more important recommendations.

Ever since I became involved in the food and agriculture sectors of this economy, some 24 years ago, there has been a tension between food and agriculture. As in any tension situation, one "side" was in the prime position at one stage and the other "side" at another stage. Tensions create dynamism and are not always destructive but, when unforeseen external circumstances occur, the tensions can become pretty ferocious and a battlefield is constructed. I fear that that has been the case between the food and agriculture sectors for a long time. Of course we now have a third sector in the equation--catering.

One department of state is responsible for these three competing, almost feuding, sectors--MAFF. I am not a MAFF basher; it has enough enemies and critics, particularly in the wake of the BSE report. Going off on a tangent for a minute, I ask the Minister, why was the only immediate action following the publication of the Phillips report on the BSE situation the announcement that a First Civil Service Commissioner would be investigating whether any disciplinary action should be taken against civil servants named in the report? MAFF civil servants have never been top of the popularity stakes; they have been pilloried relentlessly during the past few years due to the various food scares, the GM crops issue, BSE and other very serious matters. But we should not forget that our Civil Service is world-renowned as being of the highest integrity; the people there work extremely hard and going in with seven-league boots to trample all over them in the attempt to find a scapegoat for BSE is not the way to encourage other people to join our Civil Service.

In the Better Regulation Task Force report there is a Recommendation 20, which states:

    "MAFF's existing role as sponsor of the catering and food manufacturing industries should be re-examined to avoid conflicts of interest".

This is what I should really like to home in on:

    "MAFF's role as sponsor of agriculture should be clarified and sharpened. This role should include: representing agricultural interests to policy-makers in other Government departments; co-ordinating advice from different specialist agencies, and considering grants for environmental plans; communicating new government policies to farmers; and reinstating the regional panels as a genuine voice for farmers and other rural interests".

The analysis points out that MAFF needs to re-emphasise its role as the sponsor of farming. I do hope that the Government will take note of this. Farming so badly needs a period of respite from being seen as the magnet or target of all criticism. Farmers working as individual units, geographically quite isolated, battling against the elements, have little time to press their case. It is my belief that they are seriously underestimated as regards the work they do, in all weathers, to ensure that there is a daily--in the case of milk--supply of fresh product of the highest quality to

11 Dec 2000 : Column 146

feed the rest of us. True recognition of their worth and their needs is always likely to be befuddled so long as the three sectors of farming, food and catering are lumped together. I hope that the Government will do something about sorting out where the emphasis in MAFF should be.

So few of the Great British public have any concept of the work that farmers do and, strange as it may seem, they have no concept either of how efficient the sector is. The Government seem to be endorsing that lack of knowledge by concentrating on the negatives and acknowledging the existence of a life outside the cities only by referring to "hunting with dogs". Incidentally, I hope that some cognisance will be taken of the fact that there will be some 3.37 million potential cost to farmers for the removal of some 400,000 carcasses of dead sheep and cattle if hunting with dogs is banned. That is just another factor in the equation.

I am not suggesting that there is any predetermined malice towards agriculture in the minds of this Government, but there does not seem to be much interest in it either, judging by the content of the gracious Speech.

The Better Regulation Task Force's report that I have already referred to makes a case for better communication between MAFF and the farming community. That is specifically directed at the need for new regulations to be explained to farmers so that they can understand the implications of what they mean to them. I think that a case could be made for better communication between MAFF and other government departments and the Government as a whole so that the cavalier attitude so prevalent today could be banished.

Farmers need a single-minded, focused ministry to look after their needs and to produce proposals for reform of the CAP based on the knowledge of how agriculture really works. I hope sincerely that we shall never again see a gracious Speech which so studiously avoids one of the most important sectors in the life of our nation.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, it is inevitable in the debates that take place on the gracious Speech that we must talk on apparently disparate subjects which are grouped together. This leads to a degree of discontinuity in debate. Perhaps it may be possible for the usual channels to order our affairs a bit better the next time round. My noble friend Lady Sharp mentioned this in her important speech.

The right reverend Prelate spoke on the environment and referred to the global aspects of climate warming. I should like to refer more specifically to the UK position. I do so because there have recently been published two important documents on the subject. The first is entitled Climate Change--The UK Programme, which was published by the Government only last month and is an admirable document because it fully covers the subject. It deals with the matter ab initio, looking at the

11 Dec 2000 : Column 147

whole issue of climate change and then analyses the position in the UK and the various measures now being taken and their prospects of achievement. The other document, which was issued in June, was entitled Energy--The Changing Climate. That was produced by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

As we are aware, the Government have accepted demanding targets for the reduction of emissions in the UK. They have accepted and, indeed, hope to go beyond the targets set by the European Union on general greenhouse gas emissions. They have also set a very demanding target specifically for CO 2 emissions in the UK. Those targets are to be achieved by the year 2010 in relation to the levels in 1990.

The government document to which I referred is, on the whole, fairly optimistic about the prospects of achieving the targets. The document produced by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is rather more doubtful as to whether they will be achieved.

In view of those publications, it seems to me that this is an appropriate time briefly to review the position. Let us consider what has happened in the past 10 years. There was a main change in the way in which electricity is generated in this country from coal-fired stations to gas-fired stations. Having spent a large part of my working life in the coal industry, I have mixed feelings on the subject. Nevertheless, that is what happened. As a result, a substantial reduction in emissions was achieved. Relatively less was achieved elsewhere.

That process cannot be repeated; it is a one-off. In subsequent periods it will be much more difficult to achieve the levels of emissions reduction that were achieved in the 1990 to 2000 period. The particular difficulty faced by the Government is that the whole economic environment, the market place, is moving in the opposite direction. With improved living standards and a buoyant economy, the tendency is to use more energy and not less. Therefore, measures will be required that go against market trends. That is always difficult. Sheer admonition will not do. There has to be positive action by using either fiscal or regulatory measures.

The government document on climate change indicates what is proposed. There is no doubt about the seriousness with which the Government regard this issue. However, I am doubtful whether, against the market trends, it will be possible for the government targets to be achieved in the period 2000-10 and I have even graver doubts about the period beyond 2010 because in that period there will be a progressive decommissioning of the nuclear power stations. They will have to be replaced and for the moment it would be idle speculation and wishful thinking to believe that renewable energy can take on the whole of that burden. In the timespan concerned, that would not be possible. Therefore, there is likely to be a further revival in fossil fuel burning in power stations in one form or another. That makes it even more difficult to achieve emission reductions in the period from 2010 onwards.

11 Dec 2000 : Column 148

How should the problem be dealt with? I believe that the framework that the Government have established is adequate. I suggest that within that framework there should be a number of what I would describe as focused initiatives. I shall mention a few that may help to achieve the sort of levels of emissions savings that are implied in the targets.

First, I shall deal with the climate change levy. As your Lordships are aware, the levy has been imposed in order to make a charge on industry and on business to the extent that they use energy so that the less that they use the less levy they will have to pay. That is a perfectly proper thing to do in this situation. However, the difficulty with the levy is that, while it is likely to yield around 1 billion or more--it is not clear precisely how much it will raise--the amount that will be recycled for energy saving purposes will be only about a third, 300 million. The rest will go towards reducing national insurance contributions. That is a worthy endeavour, but I do not see how that is related to the problem of dealing with climate change. In fact, it may have the reverse effect. Companies that will have to bear the bulk of the levy are those known as intensive energy users. Their spend on energy is considerable but their manpower has been kept to minimum levels. The people who will benefit from the national insurance rebate will be those who are labour intensive and who use little energy, such as commercial and public establishments. There is little logic in this situation. Therefore, I would ask the Government to think again about recycling much more. I would like to see the totality of what is raised on the levy recycled for purposes of stimulating energy efficiency.

Secondly, I turn to combined heat and power and renewables, both of which are strongly supported by the Government. They have set the target of reaching substantial increases in each of those sectors by the year 2010. That is fine, and the Government have taken a number of measures in order to bring that about, but--this is the point that worries me--the policy has not been thought through entirely.

With the new electricity trading arrangements (NETA) that, as presently indicated, are likely to come into effect in March of next year, there will be certain mechanisms called "settlement arrangements" that will jeopardise the position of those who produce energy of an unpredictable nature. The purpose of the new electricity trading arrangements is to stimulate producers to balance their sales books and, if they have spare energy or they have to buy in energy at the last minute, to penalise them. It would be difficult, say, for a wind farm which could not estimate in advance how the wind will blow, to be able to judge exactly how much energy it will produce and how much it can put under contract.

In the case of CHP and renewables the Government should look at the situation as a whole and ensure that no particular part of their policy will weaken another part.

To turn to another issue, the Government have recognised the importance of fuel poverty. Recently a

11 Dec 2000 : Column 149

Bill called the Warm Homes Bill, which has now been enacted, passed through the House. That commits the Government to eliminate fuel poverty in the next 15 years. In the debate on that Bill I said that the period of 15 years was too long and that it should be 10 years. I believe that the Government now accept that 10 years should be the objective. If that is so, and because there are between 4 million and 5 million homes in fuel poverty in this country--people who cannot afford enough fuel to keep warm because it eats up too large a part of their income--the number of homes in that category that have to be dealt with every year is between 400,000 and 500,000 over the 10 years. At the moment, under the various schemes that the Government have introduced, the number of homes dealt with is 200,000 per annum, so a major additional effort will be required.

There are a number of other areas where I believe that there ought to be focused initiatives in order to buttress endeavours to achieve the emission reduction targets. I want to conclude with one in particular that affects security of supply. We have been through a period in which we have generally not been short of energy. But we do not know how long the gas reserves in the North Sea will last and where we will get our gas when those reserves become depleted. And as regards price, we have recently seen the extreme volatility with which international fuel prices behave, with oil prices rising from 10 dollars a barrel to more than 30 dollars, and with gas prices rising from about 12p to 28p per therm.

Against that price volatility and uncertainty of long-term supply, we must do something about having a satisfactory diversity on which we can depend. That is where my old friend the coal industry comes in. If we want to have an adequate diversity of dependable supply, we must make sure that coal plays its part. But it can do so only if we put more effort into clean coal technology. Coal burnt under those new technologies could reduce substantially the amount of emissions. In order to encourage that and to get it moving, we must include coal in the clean fuel obligations. There must be something to help it forward. Just as there is a renewables obligation in the recently enacted Utilities Act, there should be a clean coal obligation.

There is already on the drawing board and ready to receive planning consent a major project for 400 megawatts for clean coal technology at Kellingley colliery in Yorkshire which could be of great importance. It is ready to go forward if a market obligation can be put in place.

I have indicated some ways in which the Government's endeavours to achieve their emission reduction targets can be buttressed by what I have called "focused initiatives". There should be many more such initiatives. The task ahead, particularly beyond 2010, will be horrendously difficult and we should not mince words about it. Therefore, the framework that the Government have established should be supported in a number of areas in which specific and tangible results can be achieved.

11 Dec 2000 : Column 150

5.52 p.m.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, to prove the noble Lord's point, I shall not follow him down that interesting road, but in another piece of discontinuity perhaps I may turn to education. First, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, on a tour de force. He is not only a distinguished historian but an historian of Wales and the Labour Party. The fact that he has remained friends of both says a great deal for his abilities as a historian. He wrote a seminal work on the role of Wales in British politics, which as noble Lords will know is no slim volume. We look forward to his writing himself into that script. He is rather a poacher turned gamekeeper, which will probably be my last reference to either agriculture or the environment. I apologise.

I am delighted that the educational priority of this Session is special educational needs and I am pleased that a Bill will be introduced in this House next week. It is about one form of educational inclusion; it is about reducing barriers to learning. I would like to focus on other ways of reducing barriers to learning and promoting social inclusion.

In 1997, the Government gave education their highest priority--and quite rightly so--and they gave a high priority to challenging and setting ambitious targets in education--and quite rightly so. There was a great deal to put right and much ground to make up. Their priorities have been absolutely right. They have started with the youngest and focused on the areas which have fallen so far behind and where most action was needed. We have seen the results in the new funding for repairs, the new technologies, the training of teachers and, above all, this week in their strategies for literacy and numeracy, which are clearly working.

Those achievements are due to our teachers. I sincerely hope that we have moved into an era where it is more common to praise teachers than to diminish their achievements. That is the foundation of all we hope to achieve. I hope also that we shall be able to look to a time when the classroom is a place of creativity; when young teachers will be able to use the many qualifications they hold, particularly in the arts, in order to bring all forms of art alive to young children and to create the artists and audiences of tomorrow. I hope also that we shall give more support to young teachers in the classrooms. I believe that sometimes they feel isolated.

However, what has been achieved must be set against what has still to be done. There is a great deal to be done and I am pleased that we are focusing on secondary education, particularly the most vulnerable age group between 11 and 13. The hardest challenge of all is to raise the self-esteem and motivation of children and families for whom education has been a disappointment. We need to encourage them to learn and to go on learning.

If we are to raise standards at Key Stage 3, and if we are to keep pupils engaged with school, we have to pay far more attention to the transition period between primary and secondary education. Research suggests

11 Dec 2000 : Column 151

that about 30 per cent of pupils have regressed in maths a year after leaving primary school. We all know, because the diagnosis exists, that these are the years when students lose confidence and parents lose contact with schools and when the gap in performance between boys and girls widens. The excellent headteacher, Michael Marland, said that those are the years when the "silent applause" of peer groups for bad behaviour overwhelmed the positive praise of any teacher.

One of the most successful initiatives in recent years--and one with which I am proud to have been associated--was the setting up of summer learning schemes. They began in 1997 with literacy. There were then 50 schools, and this year the number was 2,300 across a wide range of abilities and across the curricula. I hope that the Government will aim to put those schemes in front of as many children as possible. They not only bridge the gap between primary and secondary education but they give families and children enormous confidence that when they start school they will know the curriculum, their new teachers and the schools. They also boost basic skills. They are an extremely important innovation and I hope that we will build on them successfully in the coming years.

Secondly, we need to think again about how we can help children and families who have little hope in education itself. In that respect, I would like to see the Government make more systematic provision for "family learning". It is a relatively new term and sometimes it is used confusingly. Disadvantaged children face many additional obstacles in their journey through school. Alex Clegg once said that about 39 differences separate children in disadvantage from other families, of which 18 relate to their family circumstances. Such children are likely to suffer not only from poor health, poor housing, poor environments and poor family circumstances but their parents do not read to them and often do not talk to them, they have no books in their homes, they have little help for extra-curricular activity and are less likely to do things out of school.

I welcome the Government's serious commitment to raising adult basic skills and to the University of Industry, for example, which will have a profound impact on the way people learn throughout their working lives. But how do we help adults who are struggling to help their children and, indeed, themselves? Many parents and carers would do more but they do not know how. They do not read well enough and are not confident with computers. They would help their children with homework if they knew how.

There is no shortage of know-how; there is a great deal of good practice. Schools and local authorities up and down the country invite families into schools after school hours and at weekends to show them how to help their children but also to help them improve their reading and computer skills. The family is treated as a whole unit for the purpose of learning. Therefore, there is no shortage of ideas or good will; there is only

11 Dec 2000 : Column 152

a shortage of systematic provision. In that area of education, as in every other, we need to make good practice common practice. That kind of practical help can make the difference between children succeeding in schools and joining the ranks of the disaffected, the disruptive and, ultimately, the disappeared.

The Government have made a good start by putting achievement at the top of the social inclusion and education agendas because the two are inseparable. Above all, in the coming year I should like the Government to make implementation of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit Schools Plus, published in March, a priority. As to that report, the Government have been very modest. It exemplifies one of the most radical and exciting developments which sets this Government's record apart from that of any other; namely, their commitment to deal not only with the basics in schools but the fact that children spend four-fifths of their time out of school.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that we must get the yobs off the street. The development of out-of-school learning programmes is not a simplistic answer to that but is one solution. The report recognises that the lives and learning opportunities of many children outside school are deeply unequal and impoverished, with dire results. It puts very practical options in place so that in future in deprived areas in particular schools can work more closely with communities. The report also recommends that young people should have an entitlement to out-of-school learning activities. Above all, it signals that learning does not stop in school when one is 16 or 60. It is part of a raft of initiatives gathered together under a new national framework of study support.

The New Opportunities Fund has put 180 million into one quarter of all primary schools and a half of all secondary schools in this country to develop innovative and imaginative schemes which are linked to school development plans, so there is a direct impact on their achievement. Much of that investment is in schools in disadvantaged areas, both rural and urban, and homework and computer clubs, as well as breakfast clubs, community partnerships with arts and sports, and even farming clubs and environmental clubs, are blossoming. Investment in partnerships with the voluntary and business sectors must continue because there are still far too many children in this country who go to school hungry and distracted, leave school with nowhere to go and have no space, support and peace and quiet in which to do their homework. These children never visit a library, museum, gallery or theatre and are the most likely to get into trouble and the least likely to achieve. Research shows that and teachers know it. That is why teachers and the many volunteers who support them are prepared to put in extra time, for which no praise is high enough.

In this context I am bound to reflect on the fact that one of the most poignant aspects of the tragedy of the death of Damilola Taylor was that he had just left the computer club in his local library where he felt safe and valued. He had gone there because he wanted to do better. Out-of-school clubs and activities do not reach every young person; perhaps they never will, but we

11 Dec 2000 : Column 153

should try hard to ensure that they reach as many as possible. For that reason, the report of the Social Exclusion Unit is so important. The report helps us to see what learning as well as communities may look like in future. I hope that at the next election the Government will stand by their triple priority of education, education, education and may even broaden it to learning, learning, learning.

6.4 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, in my contribution to today's debate on the gracious Speech I wish to focus on housing matters. We learn in the gracious Speech that legislation to ease the process of buying and selling homes and to improve the protection of homeless people will be brought forward, and that progress will be made on the purchase of freeholds by leaseholders and on commonhold. That is disappointing, especially in view of the much more comprehensive housing Green Paper of recent months and the fact that, when I was a Member of another place, I listened to the Opposition spokesman, now the Minister responsible for housing, and looked at the promises of the Labour Party in its previous election manifesto.

After three and a half years of this Government progress on housing matters has been slow. So far there has been only slow progress in reducing the numbers who die or suffer because their homes are damp, cold or otherwise in poor condition. Slow progress has been made in ensuring the provision of affordable homes for all. There has also been slow progress in ensuring that financial help is given to people to acquire and keep their homes. We have had no national deposit scheme or real help with mortgages for those who lose their employment or are in low paid jobs.

I return to the gracious Speech. I believe that everyone welcomes the attempt to speed up the buying and selling of homes, to make it a much more predictable process and to do something about gazumping. However, there are many, including myself, who are concerned that one pilot, which did not even reach its own target by a considerable margin, should be the basis of legislation. In Bristol's very buoyant housing market only 67 sales with sellers' packs were achieved out of a target of 250. What is more, in the pilot the packs were free. We know that that will not be the case in future: sellers may have to pay several hundred pounds for the packs. There are others who are concerned about the legal problems which may surround sellers' own surveys. There is bound to be much more comment, especially from these Benches, when we see the details put forward by the Government.

Fortunately, I have never been homeless. Homelessness often destroys lives, certainly breaks up families and prevents people from taking part in their communities and leading meaningful and fulfilling lives. Therefore, I welcome the proposals to give more help to homeless people, particularly vulnerable groups. At present, there are many groups who are not eligible for support and help; in particular, young

11 Dec 2000 : Column 154

single people. However, if such proposals are to be effective there must be sufficient resources so that local authorities have the wherewithal to provide the extra care and support needed to enable vulnerable people to sustain their housing, which is a concern of the Local Government Association. As to that, at the moment one has in mind the many people whose homes have been destroyed by floods. I welcomed the earlier statement by the Minister that the Government were concerned about this matter and were considering how people could be helped. However, one is aware that the formulas to provide money to local government are often insufficient, particularly for small local authorities. Flood defences have been built around my house not to protect it but to protect local business. The flood defences were built simply because millions of pounds would be lost if a particular business disappeared; they had nothing to do with my particular house.

If we are to help more homeless people we need a greater supply of affordable housing. Across all sectors there is a lack of such housing, particularly in London and the South East. More money has been provided by the Government. Today, we heard that there would be further investment to bring houses up to standard. However, many homes are not in good condition. Although we have heard today that there is to be more investment in affordable homes, over the years new build social housing has dropped and the stock has been severely eroded by the right to buy.

There was no mention in the gracious Speech of measures, which were heralded quite clearly in the housing Green Paper, to assist key workers, particularly nurses, teachers and the police. Recent events have highlighted the lack of police in London, often because officers cannot afford to live there. I welcomed the Minister's indication this afternoon that there would be a further announcement about that. It may assist if we can hear a little more about that this evening.

Another big area of concern which has not been mentioned is the scandal of empty homes. I believe that this should be a priority in view of the shortages. Perhaps I may demonstrate the scale of the problem. In England 250,000 homes, equivalent to a city the size of Sheffield, have been empty for one year or more. In London there are over 114,000 empty homes at any one time. That is more than the entire housing stock in the City of Westminster. Approximately 40,000 homes have been empty for one year or more in London. That represents the equivalent of half the entire housing stock in the boroughs of Harrow or Islington. In the South East, where pressure is perhaps the greatest, there are an additional 95,000 empty homes, of which 30,000 have been empty for one year or more.

I am particularly disappointed that there are still no proposals to scrap the anomaly that means that VAT is charged on refurbishment but not on new-build. The present situation is irrational. It does not support the wider sustainability agenda. Report after report has highlighted the good sense of changing the situation;

11 Dec 2000 : Column 155

for example, the reports of the Empty Homes Agency, the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

I welcome the fact that the Government recognise the appalling state of some of our housing, but there is little financial help to bring properties up to standard. There are not enough penalties for people who leave properties empty for long periods. Part of the problem with empty properties is the need to improve the standard to make them fit to live in. I should like to see a duty placed on all local authorities to have a proper empty property strategy.

There are currently 3 million families living in poor condition housing. In the private sector there is a huge variability of quality with those least able to exercise choice often being left in the poorest quality housing. That leads me to perhaps my greatest disappointment: the Government have failed to live up to their promise of licensing houses in multiple occupation. That was promised by the present housing minister during the passage of the previous Bill. I spent many hours listening to his promises in the previous government. It was promised in the 1997 Labour election manifesto, and it was heralded as desirable in the Green Paper. I was part of a lobby from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Homelessness and Housing Needs to the Minister. I have some inkling why that was not in the gracious Speech. It is because there will be changes to the building regulations and many believe that the licensing issue should go hand in hand. That is not a sufficient excuse. The numbers going into temporary housing--it is just that type of housing that we are talking about--have been rising. That is perhaps one of the biggest disappointments for many in the housing world.

I return to building standards. The Government have tackled, and continue to tackle, some of the worst homes with regard to energy efficiency. My noble friend Lord Ezra has already mentioned this matter. The Government promise that they will try to end fuel poverty in 10 years or so. But they continue to put off raising standards of new-build through building regulations.

Lastly, I turn to leasehold reform. Promises were made by the present housing minister for root and branch reform. Once again we have been disappointed by the proposals which so far have been put forward. I was heartened this afternoon by the Minister saying that the Government will listen to the consultation and they will make changes, because, by golly, the people who have fought that campaign over the years really do want to see some changes.

There will be many who will be disappointed at the small number of measures on housing outlined in the gracious Speech. It seems that I am not the only disappointed noble Lord today. In response to the

11 Dec 2000 : Column 156

Green Paper the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors said:

    "We recognise that considerable work had to be undertaken in preparing this Green Paper. We are, however, concerned that these proposals have come so late in the Parliament, as there is now only limited time to progress these initiatives prior to the next general election".

It gives me no pleasure to say, how right they were!

6.15 p.m.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I feel privileged to be able once again to take part in the debate on the most gracious Speech, although, as an ardent supporter of the monarchy and Parliament, Her Majesty's Government ought to be ashamed of its contents.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, I, too, was saddened that yet again there was no mention of agriculture in the gracious Speech. The only thing that could be remotely related to the environment, despite the recently published rural White Paper, is the Bill to ban hunting with dogs.

Ten days ago, less than five miles away from this royal palace, a 10 year-old boy was brutally murdered. Yet the Government want to waste parliamentary time debating fox hunting.

Farming is in its deepest crisis in living memory. Every sector has been hit. Milk farmers are getting just 10 pence per litre. Cereal farmers are fortunate if they get 60 per tonne when 20 years ago they were receiving 100 per tonne. I wonder how the noble Baroness the Minister would feel if she was earning nearly half what she was 20 years ago. At 1.71 billion, the estimate of total farm income shows a fall in real terms of some 29 per cent on the level of 2.4 billion last year. Compared to the level only five years ago of 6.07 billion, total farming income has now fallen by over 70 per cent. Farm incomes this year are at their lowest level for over three generations--I repeat, three generations--and in reality many farming families are making virtually no personal drawings and have been forced to stop investing in their farms.

Total income from farming has fallen from 7 billion in 1973 to 1.7 billion this year. What can be done? The noble Baroness will not be surprised when yet again in your Lordships' House I make a plea for biodiesel, especially as Her Majesty's Government are rightly committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is worth repeating the Pre-Budget Report of 8th November. That stated:

    "In the longer term, the challenge will be to achieve cleaner, greener road transport. Ultimately it will be for industry to rise to the challenge of developing profitable alternative fuels and related technologies. Therefore, in the run-up to Budget 2001, the Government will invite British industry to develop proposals for practical alternative fuels. Following consideration of these proposals the Chancellor will announce major reductions in duty rates for the most promising environmentally-friendly alternative fuels".

We have come a long way. But, if I may, I would like to indicate just how real a contribution farmers could make towards solving our road fuel problems. We have some 5 million cropping hectares in the United Kingdom. Currently about 10 per cent is used for oilseed rape. About three-quarters of that is used for

11 Dec 2000 : Column 157

cooking oil. Most of the balance is exported--here I must declare an interest as I export all my oilseed rape--to France, Austria and Germany where they make it into diesel. Why do we not do the same? There are no husbandry reasons why the area of oil seeds should not rise to nearly 1 million hectares. By comparison, we grow nearly 2 million hectares of wheat; and land which will grow wheat will certainly grow oil seeds.

After taking away the area needed for our cooking oil, we could be left with 550,000 hectares for fuel oil production. Yields of oil are presently around 1.4 tonnes per acre, but with the best possible practice and with more money spent on research and development we easily ought to be able to achieve a yield of 2 tonnes of diesel per hectare. That would be over 8 per cent of the 15 million tonnes of fossil derv we burn each year. I believe that this House must encourage the Chancellor to give such tax derogation--as he as already done for gas fuels--as it will enable British farmers and British entrepreneurs to create this most useful new industry which, above all else, is environmentally friendly.

I turn to the environment. With the countryside already on its knees, as I tried to demonstrate earlier, the Government's prioritisation of a hunting Bill is a scandalous abuse of parliamentary time. The Government have stated that they are neutral on the issue and yet have said that they will consider invoking the Parliament Act. While the Bill contains options for MPs to choose between on a free vote, it is laughable in the face of the huge, bigoted, illiberal majority on their Benches.

The Government have introduced and published this Hunting Bill while debate on the Queen's Speech is still in progress. No other government Bill has been given such priority. A politically astute government would be using the coming Session surely to address real issues that matter to people. To give priority to the question of hunting shows a total lack of seriousness where the other legislation announced in the Queen's Speech is concerned and a casual disregard for health, education and crime. It is no exaggeration to suggest, as did The Times editorial on 7th December:

    "It is a reasonable wager that this measure will attract more heat and use up more parliamentary time than any other aspect of this prospectus".

This misuse of parliamentary time must presumably have an underlying cause. It has been shown that a promised hunting ban does not have a significant effect on electoral turn-out or results. One recalls therefore the donation by the political animal lobby of 1.1 million to the Labour Party in recent years. This must now mean that we have cash for legislation.

While time is being wasted debating hunting, the Prime Minister has acknowledged that the NHS will be in difficulties yet again this winter. Moreover, public transport continues in chaos and rural Britain is in severe crisis. Despite promises in the rural White Paper, there is nothing in the Queen's Speech for rural communities. For example, there is a desperate need for a Bill on food labelling to ensure that Britain's farmers are competing on a level playing field. Why

11 Dec 2000 : Column 158

was not such a Bill in the Queen's Speech? Why were not so many other important issues needing legislation covered in the gracious Speech?

Have not priorities and indeed civil liberties gone completely out of the window? Surely we ought to be focusing on the real issues facing the nation. Ordinary people I meet cannot believe that hunting is top of the parliamentary agenda. Criminal offences are up by 190,000 on last year and last week the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police made a plea for a further 3,000 officers. What do the Government do? They introduce a Bill to ban hunting with dogs. And if a Bill to ban hunting did get Royal Assent, how many more officers would be required nation-wide to enforce it?

There is a widely reported rumour that schools within our capital will shortly be on a four-day week. What do the Government do? They want to introduce a Bill to ban hunting with dogs. Public transport is in complete chaos over the entire country. And, my Lords, what is the Government's response to all these issues? A Bill to ban hunting with dogs.

It is painfully obvious that Her Majesty's Government are unable to distinguish between what is essential and what is not. I would strongly urge them to drop this ludicrous Bill and concentrate on the real problems facing the nation. I have in the past supported this Government, and most especially when they were in opposition, but I now fear and feel that they are misguided, misdirected and out of touch.

6.24 p.m.

Lord Layard: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Morgan on his wonderfully enjoyable, elegant and interesting speech. My noble friend spoke about higher education, which is one of Britain's success stories. I want to talk about lower education, which, unfortunately, is not. More specifically, I want to talk about the education of the less academic half of the population, which has been an area of scandalous neglect for many decades.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, quoted the international figures for literacy. To reinforce what she said, I shall quote those for numeracy. In Britain, 22 per cent of 16 to 25 year-olds, when they go to the shop and pay 2, cannot calculate the change which they are owed from that simple transaction. In Sweden, the comparable proportion is 5 per cent, and in every major continental country the proportion is under 10 per cent. The same difference emerges if we look at levels of qualifications. In Britain, 45 per cent of the workforce have no serious qualifications equivalent to good GCSEs or above, whereas in Germany the proportion is 17 per cent.

The effects of these disparities are exactly as we would expect. First, we have a more unequal society, with more unequal wages than on the Continent, dragged down by the less well educated tail. Secondly, the average which results for wages and productivity is substantially lower than it is in Europe north of the Alps. For example, if we compare ourselves with Germany--the Chancellor is always doing that--our productivity and wages are roughly 20 per cent lower.

11 Dec 2000 : Column 159

Why is that the case? Perhaps I may do a simple calculation which I did the other day. Let us suppose that we paid the same wage as we now do for each level of skill and qualification but that our workforce had instead the skills and qualification levels now found in the German workforce. What would happen to our wages? They would be 13 per cent higher; that is to say, we would have closed two-thirds of that productivity gap between ourselves and Germany. Furthermore, if we had a bigger skills base, we would attract a higher level of investment. As noble Lords know, we have a low investment rate compared with the Continent.

It is no wonder that the Government think that education matters. But is the Government's strategy for dealing with the problems of the less academic half of the nation up to the magnitude of the task? I increasingly think that it is and I would say that there are three main tasks to be tackled. The first is schools, although we have also to think of the earlier stages mentioned by other noble Lords. We have seen an extraordinary change in our primary schools through the school literacy and numeracy strategy. My noble friend the Minister gave the figures. I shall not labour them, but when I quoted those figures the day before yesterday to some American colleagues, they were completely astonished that such a change could be achieved by effective government action. It is a remarkable achievement.

I move on to the post-16 stage, by which time surely everyone should be literate and numerate. We should have a system which allows every person to experience the pride of having and exercising a vocational competence. Our present system dismally fails to ensure that. For this age group, the greatest task facing us is to build a truly effective system of vocational education which can attract the people who are not interested in A-levels. We constantly discuss A-levels and degrees but we do not discuss sufficiently the needs of the other half of the population, who are constantly neglected.

Over the past 20 years the history of the vocational education and training sector is tragic. Until 1980 we at least had a national system of apprenticeships. Although it covered only a limited proportion of youngsters, those who qualified through it acquired two things: they had learnt the tricks of the trade and they had also, through day release, acquired some knowledge relevant to their occupation or industry. That knowledge was externally examined through bodies such as the City and Guilds Ordinary National Certificate and so forth. In other words, those youngsters were treated as though what mattered were not only the operations they performed in the workplace but also what they knew, how they thought and their ability to analyse the problems that they faced.

Tragically, under the previous government the apprenticeship system was allowed to atrophy. The national industrial training boards, which had set standards, were scrapped, to be replaced by local training and enterprise councils. The theory was held that flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of

11 Dec 2000 : Column 160

vocational education should be the overriding requirements, rather than a clearly established set of national standards for each industry. We replaced the old-style and well-tried qualifications which had comprised a good deal of learning away from the job with national vocational qualifications which were examined only in the workplace. Even numerically, the result was a failure. The new system did not increase the number of people who acquired the new forms of qualification and we did not see the intended flourishing of vocational learning; indeed, we saw stagnation. Between 1985 and 1996, we saw very little increase in the number of young people achieving vocational qualifications, while the number of young people who acquired A-levels or university degrees doubled. Once more, that group gained while the other group did not. Today we still have a situation where nearly 40 per cent of 19 to 21 year-olds acquire no qualifications worth the name. To engage that 40 per cent is one of the greatest challenges facing our country if we wish to achieve a productive economy, an equal society and an end to the yob culture, as was mentioned earlier.

I believe that some among that 40 per cent could be induced to continue in full-time education. The system of educational maintenance allowances now being piloted will help to promote that. However, surely a great many from the group would be interested in further learning only if they were able to earn money at the same time. The Government have therefore committed themselves to a major expansion of apprenticeships. That is extremely important, but it should be done only on the condition that the quality of training will be better than that which they have inherited. It is proposed that, even after the age of 16, we should ensure that the skills of communication and numeracy are improved off the job to the point that an individual with the necessary aptitude and who had acquired enough knowledge in this way might be able to proceed to degree level work. We should not produce a system with a dead end, such as a new form of secondary modern education.

This area of education will present one of the major challenges to the next Parliament. We need to build up a high quality apprenticeship system so that a youngster who does not wish to pursue full-time education beyond the age of 16 would have the right to an apprenticeship place, provided that he or she had attained adequate entry qualifications. If young people at the age of 13 could see such a system in place to which they could aspire, if they worked hard for the succeeding three years, we would be able to dispel much of the cynicism that develops at that stage of life. We would see more of the motivation, discipline and seriousness that are to be found among young people in, for example, Germany.

For those aged between 16 and 21, such reforms are key, but it has already been pointed out that millions of adults have already missed out, including the 7 million illiterate adults of working age. I had the privilege to serve on the Moser committee, which investigated the problem and proposed a bold strategy to seek to halve that number by 2010. The Government are currently in

11 Dec 2000 : Column 161

the process of launching a strategy to follow up those proposals. Major funding will be provided, but we shall still face a massive problem in mobilising effective demand and organising an effective supply of skills to meet it. Everyone in society who wishes to succeed will need to address this problem, in particular as it affects those with whom they work or live.

A key stimulus to demand will be the system of objective national tests, which are to be made available in a manner rather like the driving test. An individual could verify his or her own literacy and numeracy and provide that evidence to an employer. That will provide a powerful stimulus to demand. However, it is crucial that many different sectors of society should help to stimulate demand. Employers should feel a sense of responsibility for developing literacy and numeracy among those of their workers who do not have the requisite skills. The Employment Service should be responsible for ensuring that the millions who pass through the benefits offices are helped. Primary schools encounter parents with problems in these areas. Finally, community organisations and media drives will provide effective means of creating demand. A massive effort will need to be made if the scheme is to succeed.

A massive effort will also be needed on the supply side. The Learning and Skills Council will be charged with ensuring that the systems are in place, along with LearningDirect, formerly the University for Industry, which will provide online services in 2,000 learning centres, and, it is hoped, more over time. We should congratulate the Government on their efforts to launch such a major national crusade. They have drawn attention to a situation which, quite frankly, has remained hidden in the past. It is easy to know nothing about it, in particular if one does not wish to do so. The problem is now being brought out into the open and action is being taken to combat it.

I should like to stress that, for economic success, numeracy is at least as important as literacy. A great deal of research evidence is available to support that. For example, all things being equal, a person with a mathematics A-level will earn 10 per cent more than is the case for any other A-level. As a nation, we are not strong in numeracy. We are the only civilised country where a student may enter university not having studied mathematics beyond the age of 16, and it shows. The situation must be changed. A-level students are now encouraged to sit two AS-level papers in addition to the standard three A-levels. It is highly desirable that maths should be included as one of those. It is excellent that, through the QCA, the Government are working on a new "use of maths" AS-level paper which will meet the needs of those who are not too keen on maths, as was the case for me at that age.

Finally, I should like to say a word about universities. The noble Lord, Lord Morgan, pointed out many of the improvements the Government are bringing about, in particular as regards extra funding and teaching. However, I should like to comment on research. There is a major puzzle in the world economy. Per hour worked, Europe to the north of the

11 Dec 2000 : Column 162

Alps is as productive as the USA, but nearly all the great innovations emanate from that country. Many reasons have been suggested, such as the influence of the enterprise culture in America. However, one factor which is often overlooked is that the world's five top research universities are all situated in the United States, along with most of the best 10 institutions. The reason for that is that top research centres are far better financed in the US than is the case in Europe. For that reason, we should very much welcome the Government's science initiative being established jointly with the Wellcome Foundation.

I should also like to point out that the comparison between the USA and Europe is at least as dire in social science as it is in natural science; indeed, the position may be even more serious, because social science is more country-specific than natural science. It is unhealthy for us to import so much of our social science from the United States. Many, at least on this side of the House, suffer when they encounter American-style arguments that they feel to be inappropriate. I hope that the Government will take seriously the international comparisons which show how badly British social science performs relative to the USA. We are talking about an area of intellectual dominance. It is an area where Britain could lead Europe and rival the USA, but that would require more diversity between universities, as the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, said.

Perhaps I may conclude by saying that I believe the Government have put together a very good programme for tackling our terrible weaknesses in the education sector. I should declare an interest as a part-time consultant to the DfEE. I believe that we now have in the Secretary of State, the Chancellor and the Prime Minister the greatest trio of educational reformers that our country has seen since the war.

6.41 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am envious of noble Lords who have a Bill falling within their remit in the gracious Speech. It is much easier to talk about what is in the gracious Speech than what is not. I do not like to be negative but, unfortunately, the Government have tempted me into going down the road of talking about what is not in it by publishing the rural White Paper so shortly before the Queen's Speech.

It is a great disappointment that no legislation has come about as a result of the long-awaited White Paper. I agree that the end result looks good--there is much in the White Paper that is good--but action is desperately needed to back it up. It promises the countryside new money but it fails--and the Queen's Speech continues to fail--to address the questions that already hang over government actions, or lack of them, in many areas of rural life.

Noble Lords can easily think of examples. The future of rural post offices and the so-called universal bank is still in the air, with more closing every week. My noble friend Lady Maddock referred to rural housing; that will still suffer the same pressures as it

11 Dec 2000 : Column 163

has suffered over decades, with small cottages becoming ever less affordable. The Government have still not defined what is "affordable" in rural areas, where a one or two bedroom cottage can cost as much as 100,000. The definition of "affordable" is critical because wages are so low and house prices are so high in many of our smaller settlements.

I am conscious that the Minister who is to reply has responsibility for MAFF, not the DETR, and I intend to address the remainder of my remarks to those issues upon which she may be able to comment more directly.

Perhaps I may start with an example of a big contributor to the rural economy--a growing sector which addresses the other government target of encouraging more people from different backgrounds to take part in activities in the open air--that is, fishing. In 1994, when the last survey was carried out, a total of 2.9 million people regularly took part in angling. On average they spent about 1,000 each--game anglers spending a little more than coarse anglers--making a total spend of about 3.3 billion. It is big business. Most of it is home business; it is not reliant on overseas tourists who may be put off by the strong pound.

The business is mentioned in the White Paper in less than 100 words. The White Paper refers to the excellent review which was carried out and which is available to your Lordships as the "Salmon and freshwater fisheries review". It is not only about angling but about the conservation of habitats, the pressures on the freshwater environment and the fish that live in it. It also looks at the contribution that fishing can make to the rural economy.

The review contained many recommendations, including several that urgently need primary legislation. I am sad to say that the only action to date--contrary to a firm recommendation in the review to increase the money available to the Environment Agency--has been to cut the grant given to the Environment Agency for fisheries work from 4.7 million last year to 3.2 million this year.

Can the Minister confirm that at least fisheries development will qualify for the rural development grant? When does she expect that the legislation recommended by the commission will be brought forward by the Government?

Perhaps I may now touch on the expected hunting with dogs legislation. I am sure that we shall debate at length the options--I hope that the legislation comes to this House with all of the options intact--but we must also consider its importance to the rural economy. In terms of direct jobs alone, Burns estimated that between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs could be affected. We must also consider the indirect dependence of jobs in pubs, hotels and all the various aspects of hunting.

I hope that we will be at least consistent. Most activities which involve animals are, to some extent, questionable in welfare terms, whether it is keeping them for meat production or racing them for sport. We have until now adopted an evolutionary approach to

11 Dec 2000 : Column 164

these issues in this country. This has enabled improvements in animal welfare to be undertaken with the agreement of those involved. It has meant that people in this country have worked together so that we have one of the best records on animal welfare in the world. I hope that we shall continue with this way of working when we come to consider the hunting with dogs legislation.

I turn now to some of the other critical areas of legislation that the Government have chosen not to include in this Session. The gracious Speech does not mention any legislation suggesting a reform of local markets. There is much talk in the rural White Paper of market towns as hubs for rural activity. That is good; that is how it should be. That, of course, is how those towns developed a purpose in life. But the reason that the Government and local authorities must now spend money and energy helping market towns is that such communities have often lost their markets--which consisted of local producers selling their splendid fresh produce every week--and gained only a supermarket in exchange.

I am sure that noble Lords will agree that a vibrant local market is a hive of discussion, planning, exchange of information and a place to meet friends for a gossip--all the things that make the local world go round. It brings trade to local cafes, pubs and smaller shops. Very importantly, it keeps local money in the local economy. It links people with the food that they buy and with the farmers who produce that food.

The legislation surrounding markets--where they can be held and who may promote them--is arcane. We want a network of farmers' markets to rival that which France has managed to retain. We want the way in which EU regulations are applied to producers and abattoirs to support a healthy rural economy.

My noble friends Lord Mackie and Lord Geraint will ask the Government about regulations and charging with regard to abattoirs, but the crash in numbers of small and medium size abattoirs has weakened the rural economy of livestock- producing Britain. It is no good the Government talking about regenerating market towns if they are to become the sole preserve of chutney makers. Chutney is there to accompany ham and cold beef. The network of smaller specialist slaughterhouses and cutting plants is as vital to the regeneration of many rural areas as anything else the Government may provide.

Of course, the 8.7 million which has been announced for that industry is very welcome. At the same time, unless the Government address the situation very rapidly, the regulations which are still strangling the industry--and, indeed, the new consideration of the pithing regulations--are likely to undo much of the good the money will bring.

Another omission from the Queen's Speech was legislation to address the pressing need for an agricultural ombudsman. Ombudsmen exist for other areas of life; why not in agriculture? I do not believe that MAFF should be the judge and jury. Indeed, looking at the result of the recent case of a farmer who successfully appealed to the European Court because

11 Dec 2000 : Column 165

his IACs payments were--in Europe's view-- wrongly assessed by MAFF, which refused him money for set aside, if an ombudsman had been in place, it might have saved the Government the money that they are now likely to have to pay out.

An ombudsman would, first, provide a service to farmers that they should rightly expect. Secondly, it might prevent this and successive governments running into more difficulties over inaccurately assessed payments. Do the Government intend to bring forward a proposal for an agricultural ombudsman?

I listened carefully to comments from the Conservative Benches. I should like to state clearly that I do not believe it right for Conservative Members to lecture the Government on the state of the agricultural industry. Under the previous government, for years, there was a drastic lack of take-up of European funding for rural development. Unfortunately--although it was perhaps unforeseen --they presided over the BSE crisis. Also, they did little to promote market towns, local markets, or any of the issues to which I have referred.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page