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Noble Lords: Reply!

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: In that case, I am counting on the understanding and the tolerance of the House if I also transgress the conventions which we have so recently arrived at. I shall be as brief as I can.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, spoke about welfare spending. He was running together benefits spending with the tax credits which support people who are in work. Primarily, as the noble Lord will know, wages do not reflect family need and therefore for many people with a large number of children in particular, they may be better off not being in work given the low level of income which many people experience. That is why I am delighted—and make no apologies

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whatever—for the work of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in targeting family poverty by supporting those in work whose wages are low and who as a result need increasing support. That is the place of tax credits and I am delighted that we are providing them.

I link to that the question asked by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about which benefits are not subject to RPI. Most of them will be more generous than RPI, such as the retirement pension. The only provision I am aware of which has been frozen for several years is the lone parent additional premium.

The second issue raised was that of pension credit. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, pressed me about means testing. It is not means testing but targeted support. We are talking about a five-yearly assessment of very broad bands of income which will only need to be changed if there has been a life-changing event in a pensioner's family such as the loss of a spouse. The noble Lord asked me whether it was a reward for saving. Yes, it is. At the moment the primary beneficiaries of pension credit are older women. For example, the widow of a manual worker might be receiving a local authority pension of 100 a month. At the moment she sees not one penny of it because she is no better off than if she had a minimum income guarantee.

As a result of pension credit (which is almost like an ISA wraparound in some respects) that widow will receive 60 per month. For the first time the pension credit will ensure that those with modest savings, which in the past would not have floated them off the minimum income guarantee, will now enjoy the majority of those savings. I hope that the whole House will welcome them.

I now turn to incapacity benefit. It is the case that 2.7 million people are on incapacity benefit. About 1 million people have told us that they want to work but they are not doing so. We cannot read across from the degree of disability to the degree of ability to work as those receiving the independent living fund support tell us. It is the case that when people first go onto incapacity benefit 90 per cent of them expect to work. Of that number 40 per cent are still receiving incapacity benefit a year later and of that percentage fewer than one in five go on to find work.

I know that with the noble Lord's expertise in the field of disability, he will want, with us, to make these proposals work. This may give reassurance to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It is a consultation document which in due course will lead to six pilot schemes. They will be assessed. The schemes will run to April 2006. Only then will we decide whether it is the right way forward.

I emphasise that the thrust of these measures is to try to keep people attached to the labour market. We know that someone on incapacity benefit who gets back to work within a year of receiving that benefit, will stay in work. If that is not so, as my statistics show, it is unlikely that that person will ever return to work. The point about the interviews is not to make the person return to work. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, that is the person's choice. We want to

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keep the person attached to the labour market with information, rehabilitation and extra material which they may not know about. Above all, there is the return to work credit thus showing the financial advantages of returning to work.

I do not believe that we have an alternative but to seek to keep people attached to the labour market so that they can make informed choices when they are ready to return to work. Many of them wish to do that at the moment, but do not do so. We shall see whether the pilot schemes are the right way forward and we shall all share that knowledge.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked me about universal banking. I can assure him that the Post Office tells us that everything is on track. We hope to set out more details of our implementation plans shortly. However, universal banking will help us to overcome financial exclusion; it will help us to offer greater flexibility to people as regards budgeting—they will be able to take out small parts of their benefit rather than the entire benefit; they will be able to go to any post office in the country; and they can be assured that, as a result of universal banking, there will be greater safeguards against fraud, theft and error than in the past. I hope that, as a result, we shall deliver a service which allows people both to claim and to take up the benefits to which they are entitled.

I have trespassed on the House for only six minutes. I apologise to both noble Lords if I have not answered all their questions. However, I shall write to them on any aspects that I have missed. I could have taken another 10 minutes but shall not do so.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

4.40 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate following the gracious Speech and the very stimulating introductory speeches during the first part of the debate. I shall focus on education and, within that, the importance of citizenship education and personal, social and health education. Those subjects used to be referred to as the "soft underbelly" of the curriculum. I shall argue that they are fundamental to the whole body of the curriculum, contributing to raising standards of academic achievement, social and moral responsibility and health and well-being, as well as reducing anti-social behaviour.

The main concern that I shall raise is the importance of putting children and young people at the heart of any government agenda and all Bills. I must apologise to the House for having to be absent for much of the afternoon. As co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, I shall be involved in an event in

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Westminster bringing together 70 young people to meet Ministers and all-party politicians at the launch of our first annual report.

This has been a good Government for children—probably the best over the past 50 years. They have introduced many positive initiatives, such as investment in education, referred to by my noble friend Lady Ashton, tackling child poverty, neighbourhood renewal, Sure Start, strategy development by the Children and Young People's Unit, Quality Protects, the Children's Taskforce and the National Service Framework for Children. We must now ensure that those initiatives meet at a community level and interface with schools in delivering citizenship education and personal and social education. I know that Ministers are concerned about that, and my noble friend Lady Ashton has been instrumental in supporting schools to encourage social as well as academic development and achievement.

I shall first describe some issues for children which are still areas for attention before I go on to suggest that citizenship and personal social education can make a difference. A recent Save the Children report expresses concerns about the number of children who are still in poverty—about 4 million. The NSPCC is concerned about violence towards children, with one or two children dying every week at the hands of parents or carers.

Research suggests that, by the age of two, many indicators for social and academic achievement are set and that, by the age of three, behavioural indicators can detect the likelihood of committing offences and being convicted. The charity, Young Minds, has produced evidence that 20 per cent of children between the ages of five and 15 have a mental health problem. It insists that schools must promote mental health to reduce social exclusion.

Truancy is still a problem for schools. There is serious concern among experts about what has been described as an "epidemic" of child obesity, which is likely to lead to problems of diabetes and heart disease in later life. Schools may not he able to resolve all those issues but they can certainly contribute and, indeed, are contributing.

It is always interesting to hear what young people have to say about their own concerns. Recent messages from the consultation carried out by the Children and Young People's Unit to inform the UK strategy for children and young people showed that all children and young people surveyed were concerned about their health and fitness and about being safe. Those above the age of 12 felt that more emphasis should be given to the importance of families, happiness and love. Schools can help to address some of those concerns.

Citizenship education, which is statutory in secondary schools from this year and recommended in primary schools, is intended to develop the knowledge, skills and understanding required to play an effective role in society, to help young people to become informed, thoughtful and responsible citizens, aware of duties and rights as active citizens, and to develop

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values and skills to deal with difficult moral and social questions as they grow up. In a changing and often material world, such skills and values of citizenship surely need emphasis in families and in schools.

Surely there is also a need to include parenting education for both boys and girls before they leave school and become parents. Sure Start is helping with such skills. But Sure Start is not everywhere and is intended to help existing families. In my capacity as chair of the National Treatment Agency for substance misuse, I visit family rehabilitation centres and prisons where parenting skills are taught. Surely that is a little late. Being a good citizen must also involve being a good parent. It is not only a matter of being punitive and prosecutory. This may be an issue for a separate debate and further discussion.

I spoke earlier about consulting young people. That is surely an area that must be taken seriously in schools and other institutions. Much good work is being undertaken by, for example, the Gulbenkian Foundation and many children's charities. Consultation with young people is key if we are to improve services for them; we cannot extol democracy and involvement without engaging young people in it. This is not just a matter of trying to increase the numbers who vote in local and national elections, although that may be an important by-product; it is about respecting the views and concerns of others, and it should begin at an early age.

Perhaps there is a fear that young people will not be able to cope with responsibility. I cannot support that view. The school council in the primary school where I am a governor takes itself very seriously and has produced, among other things, guidelines for behaviour which pupils are expected to follow. It works. If we give young people responsibility, then of course we sometimes have to risk that they will disagree with us or not conform. That is an essential part of growing up and of democracy.

I was told a story the other day about a school council in a secondary school which took democracy very seriously. The head teacher was ill and he received a letter from the school council saying:


    "Dear Sir, the School Council has voted to send you a get well card. The vote was in favour by seven to six, with five abstentions. This vote will, of course, need to be ratified by the plebiscite".

The point is that young people will, thank goodness, be unpredictable and that they need, with support, to try out and experience systems and relationships in order to develop their own values and ways of operating.

Personal social and health education also helps young people to do that. The framework for PSHE has been in place since 2000 for pupils aged five to 16. Through the four key stages there is a structured programme of learning through which pupils can develop the knowledge, skills and understanding to have self-respect and respect for others. White Papers on education and health have recognised the importance of education in promoting better health and emotional well-being for children.

The national healthy schools standard award for schools has been a phenomenal success in engaging teachers and communities in developing local

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programmes to improve health, school ethos and achievement for all and in reducing anti-social behaviour. The impact of the national healthy schools standard is now to be evaluated formally. That should be worth watching for evidence of how personal social and health education can influence teaching and learning and partnerships with parents, carers and local communities.

In summary, the Government deserve congratulations on their emphasis on trying to improve the health and well-being of children and young people. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children will be watching to see how collaboration between initiatives at a local level shows real benefits for children and how government Bills impact on children and young people. My noble friend Lady Ashton is aware of those concerns.

My noble friend Lord Whitty has the mammoth task of trying to summarise this debate, so I do not ask for much response. I know that he, too, is concerned about children and young people. I know that all noble Lords on all Benches are prepared to work on improving the well-being of children and young people and on supporting families. No doubt we shall have many constructive debates in the future.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I want to talk about regional government which, we are told, Mr Prescott has been dreaming about for a long time. I am extremely suspicious of politicians who do not know the difference between a dream and a nightmare. The prospect of granting democratic legitimacy to wholly artificial entities drawn on the map by bureaucrats really is a nightmare.

We are not talking about regions such as those on the Continent that were units long before the nations of which they have become a part had been invented. We are talking of wholly artificial areas which, with the possible exception of the North East, reflect no natural regional loyalty or community of interest whatever. Does anyone but Mr Prescott seriously believe that good would come of Cornwall being governed from Bristol, or Cumbria from Manchester? Frankly, if anyone believes that, he has taken leave of his senses.

Before making this speech I promised myself that I would not utter the word "Europe", but I cannot resist mentioning that while our ancient counties that are rooted in our history, and to which people feel a loyalty, are under threat, a recent Brussels publication states that the South East, drawn on a map attached to the publication as stretching from Kent to Oxford, and down to the New Forest is—wait for it—


    "a region of the European Union with Roman and Norman ties that stretch back into history".

Reading such utter balderdash, one does not know whether to laugh or cry.

Some say, "What's all the fuss about? Every region can choose whether to have an assembly or not". But what kind of a choice will it be? We already have the spectacle of bishops lending respectability to this

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grubby exercise by chairing constitutional conventions. It amazes me. If those bishops feel the need to fight disenchantment with politics among the young, why do they not direct their energies to teaching people the importance of our Parliament at Westminster? Indeed, why do they not urge Labour MPs to turn up there now and again to scrutinise the activities of the Government rather than working a two-day week. That would be an excellent exercise on which the bishops of this land should embark.

The Government say that there will be a free choice. Although the north west convention is housed in a dilapidated hut at the back of a pub, one can be certain that the convention's very existence, with a bishop at its head, will be taken as evidence of some popular support in the North West for an elected assembly. I fear that when there is a referendum in the North West, the unthinking will not ask why bigger and bigger regional bureaucracies have been created and powers transferred to those wholly artificial regions; they will say, "Now the regions have been given the powers, there had better be assemblies to control them". They will be encouraged to say so by Labour politicians salivating at the prospect of election to super councils where all will be paid generous salaries. And of course once one region has voted for an assembly, Mr Prescott will hint broadly that others would be foolish not to follow suit, because if they do not they will miss out on government largesse ear-marked only for those regions that have voted themselves a proper democratic structure. One can see it a mile away.

One thing is certain: regional government a la Prescott will not mean more power for local people; it will mean taking power away from them. It will not mean government closer to the people; in most of the country it will mean making it much more remote. We know all that from the Queen's Speech which tells us that county councils' powers over planning will be abolished and given to the regions. If that does not make government more remote I do not know what does.

In the North West, where the assembly will be completely dominated by representatives from Manchester and Merseyside, the voice of those living in the countryside and small towns will be drowned and the chances of our countryside disappearing under brick and concrete greatly increased. Meanwhile, as a result of the local government changes that we are told will accompany the arrival of such monstrosities, local authorities like my own Ribble Valley, will be destroyed and their powers given to more remote unitary authorities also dominated, in the case of my part of Lancashire, by urban interests. The whole thing is, quite frankly, horrific and will mean the end of any sensible and meaningful local government to which people can turn to have their concerns dealt with.

Already in the regions bureaucracies are burgeoning, often with a proliferation of pointless non-jobs. Every week the Guardian is full of advertisements not for teachers and nurses, but for consultation officers, outreach workers, ethnic minority project leaders, community development

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workers (Turkish speaking). Boris Johnson wrote recently about an advertisement for the post of director of infrastructure and community affairs in the Government Office of the East Midlands. The fatuous job description read:


    "Responsibility for ensuring GOEM delivers the step-changes we are seeking in the implementation of joined-up policy throughout our own geographical structure".

Have noble Lords ever heard such absolute nonsense?

Already 40 people are employed in the GOEM—Government Office of the East Midlands—but I can assure noble Lords that that is only the beginning. Wait until people are recruited to service the elected assemblies and the fourth-rate party hacks elected to them. We do not have to speculate; we only have to look at Scotland. MSPs draw up to 48,000 per annum for a one-and-a-half day week; the First Minister in Scotland draws more than 100,000; 22 other Ministers—five were needed before devolution—receive more than 80,000.


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